By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky lost some big offensive numbers off its 2020 softball team with the graduation of Alex Martens and Bailey Vicky, two of the nation’s best offensive players last season. However, signee Erin Coffel of Indiana will arrive on campus with some big numbers of her own.
She was a career .627 hitter with an on-base percentage of .702. She had 168 hits in only 339 at-bats and had 50 home runs, 36 doubles and nine triples while driving in 164 runs and scoring 191.
Remember, too, that she did not get to play a senior season at Bremen High School — the team won the state title in 2019 — because of COVID-19 but still set the Indiana career home run record. She was an all-American in 2019 when she was also the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, an honor she received again this year even though there was no season.
The talented Coffel had two older brothers who played baseball and her father played baseball in college. She said she started playing baseball and football at age 5 in the yard with her brothers.
“I was also born with some natural athletic ability,” Coffel said. “My brothers were definitely rough on me. They played baseball and football and didn’t hold back.”
Coffel said there was not a particular age where she realized she was a way above average hitter.
“Hitting is just something I do every day. So I guess it might come naturally but I also work at it and there was never that moment when it just hit me that I could hit,” she said.
She’s not quit hitting, either. She has her own batting cage and also has gone almost daily to a local softball field with her father to take ground balls during the COVID-19 shutdown. She prefers to play shortstop but can play second base or third base.
“My dad has been my coach my entire life,” Coffel, who had a state record 22 homers her sophomore season when her team was state runner-up, said. “He motivates and pushes me. If he sees me start to slack off, he pushes me more.”
Whatever her father and other coaches have taught her obviously has worked. She struck out just 12 times in three years and walked 64 times. Yet she wishes the strikeout total was lower.
“I guess I do have a good eye at the plate but when I see a pitch I can hit, I take a hack at it,” she said.
Coffel went to her first UK softball camp as a seventh-grader and later Kentucky was the first school she visited as a freshman during recruiting. She admits then she was in “awe of everything” at UK from the team chemistry to the personality of the coaches to the facilities.
“When we came back from the Kentucky visit I had set a visit to another school and I didn’t even want to go,” Coffel said. “My parents said I had to go and I cried. I did make a few more visits but Kentucky was the one. I had absolutely no desire to go anywhere else.”
She verbally committed as a freshman and jokes she been on the “academic tour like 50 times” during trips to Lexington the last few years to watch the team play.
Coffel has also helped convert some Indiana fans to UK softball fans.
“A lot of my friends and fans here are die-hard Hoosier fans. But I have gotten a lot of people to buy some Kentucky gear. A lot say they are coming down to watch games next year. I think I have done a pretty good job of transforming them to Kentucky fans and that’s not easy for Indiana fans to do,” Coffel said.
If you are not impressed, consider that she also had over a 3.8 grade-point average.
“I have had to work at my grades. It does not come naturally like softball,” she said. “My parents push me. They set high expectations and I try to achieve that. I am glad they put those expectations there for me or I might not have succeeded like I did.”
She’s also a basketball standout who had a school-record 1,273 points along with 513 rebounds, 236 assists, 226 steals, 185 deflections and 27 blocks in 94 career games.
“I started playing basketball in middle school. I really enjoyed it in high school. It’s just different that softball, more up and down. It also helped relax me from the stress of softball and I am really glad I chose to play basketball, too,” she said.