When a person breaks into a starting lineup, an individual can see that the person in question is a pretty good ballplayer.
However, when a person launches into a starting role and stays there throughout her four-year career, it not only speaks volumes about the talent of the player but the hard work and the mental toughness that said player has had to display to continue to solidify his or her slot in the lineup year after year.
Those qualities are ones that Minford’s Ariel Kingery has displayed time after time during her softball career with the Lady Falcons.
And sure enough, her due diligence to the game paid off in major spades on Wednesday afternoon, as the senior hand signed with Shawnee State University and its program, led by Steve Whittaker, en route to officially continuing her softball career at the collegiate level.
As with any college signee, the emotions and feelings for Kingery were wide-ranging.
“Signing with SSU feels good,” Kingery said. “It’s a little bit overwhelming, and there’s a lot of varying emotions there, but as a whole, the hard work is paying off. I feel really good about my decision to attend Shawnee State.”
For Minford head coach Preston Messer, the four-year standout’s signing to her dream school is a wonderful thing to behold.
“Anytime we can get a kid to sign off of our softball team and go to the next level, that’s great,” Messer said. “Ariel’s worked really hard for this opportunity, so it’s great for her, her family and for Minford Local Schools.”
Since her freshman year, Kingery has been a crucial hand in the team’s success, as the Lady Falcons have made it to the Division III District Semifinals in two of her first three seasons in a Minford uniform.
The success, however, didn’t come without some adversity.
“My freshman year, I definitely had to learn how to properly attack pitchers, and wait on good pitches to hit,” Kingery said. “That was quite a learning curve, but I really feel that I have improved in that facet of the game over my four-year career.”
Kingery, who has held down the fort as the team’s primary first baseman while adding a dependable pitching hand to the table, has been a Second-Team All-SOC honoree in each of the past two seasons. Minford has obtained an overall conference record of 19-9 during that timespan, including a 10-4 mark in 2016, as Kingery has provided an excellent bat for the Lady Falcons to depend upon in the middle of the order.
“Ariel started as a freshman, and has been a great asset to our team from the day that she started playing high school ball,” Messer said. “It seems like when it’s time for her to step up, she always finds a way to make a big impact and do a great job for us.”
“I love playing under Preston (Messer),” Kingery said. “He’s a great coach, and I feel that Steve (Whittaker) is a great coach, as well.”
At Shawnee State, Kingery will be joining a program that is trending upward under the direction of McDermott native Steve Whittaker. The 1985 graduate from West has led the Bears to a 7-8 record through the first 15 games of the 2017 campaign after going 11-35 last season. Better yet, Whittaker is starting at least seven underclassmen on a game-by-game basis, which means that the Minford native could be a part of a major movement from a softball standpoint.
And from the sounds of it, Kingery will play a major role in that development.
“From the indication that I got from Steve (Whittaker), Ariel’s going to be a utility player,” Messer said. “She’ll play mostly at first base, and she might pitch some, as well.”
“I hope that we can continue to build the program up to where we can contend for, and even win, some Mid-South Conference titles,” Kingery said. “The Shawnee State softball program is heading in the right direction, and I think that’s proven just in their win against Georgetown (on Tuesday evening), who is a national power in the conference.”
For now, however, the future Early Childhood Education major is thrilled to be starting a new chapter in the same county that she’s made so many memories in.
“I’m very blessed to have the friends and family that I have,” Kingery said. “They’ve been critical, not only in my development as a softball player, but in my development as a person, as well. I can’t thank them enough for their support in this new opportunity.”
In Messer’s eyes, however, the pleasure of getting to know a talented student-athlete like Kingery has been the true luxury.
“Anytime you’re a coach and one of your kids gets an opportunity to play at the next level, it’s an excellent thing to see,” Messer said. “When you’re around a kid for four years, you get attached to them like they’re one of your own, and Ariel certainly falls in that category. We’re going to hate to see her go, big time.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7