Where games are won and lost and all eyes are glued to what is coming next. So much pressure in so little time. Where a win is a windup away, and a loss is a poorly located pitch. Where there is total control, yet a boundless unpredictability.
It is exactly where Kayla Appeman wants to be.
Appeman, a senior at Norwalk High School and the Lady Truckers’ starting pitcher, is a tall, flame throwing right hander who lives to be a softball pitcher. She also lives for strikeouts.
The senior broke the Norwalk High School single-season strikeout record in a narrow loss to Bellevue on Tuesday and sat at 126 strikeouts for the season with 10 games left to play. It was a record untouched for the last 10 years when Lisa Patusky struck out 124 in 2007. But Appeman isn’t stopping there.
“My goal is to break every school pitching record,” Appeman said. “I just think it would be cool to do with this being the last season that we are in the Northern Ohio League. What better way to close that chapter?”
Next on her list is the single season wins record of 12. She sits at 10 wins with six more games to play. With her strikeout ability, she is hoping to reach that in enough time to set a higher mark that could stick around a while.
Appeman has a unique approach to every batter. While she can be overpowering with her fastball, she refuses to let that be her only pitch.
“We try to make sure we work all over the place,” Appeman said. “I love to throw movement pitches. A lot of drop balls and a lot of rise balls. So usually we work to get ahead then throw something a bit off of the plate to maybe get a corner strike or get a swinging strikeout. That is always a plus when they swing. We try to move it around a lot and it has works well so far.”
But when she needs to throw the heat, she won’t hesitate to reach back and blow it by hitters on a regular basis.
Last week, Appeman tossed her first career no-hitter in an 11-0 win over Mansfield Senior in five innings. Appeman ended with 12 strikeouts. It was one of the best games of her life, but she refused to take all of the credit.
“We were playing at a higher level that game,” Appeman said. “They were putting the ball in play, but my defense behind me was making some very great plays. I had a lot of strikeouts too, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates behind me making those plays.”
Behind every strikeout this season has been sophomore Sydney Hughes. The young catcher is in her first full season behind the dish for the Lady Truckers, but she has seen what Appeman can do for many years. Appeman credits her with a lot of the success she has enjoyed.
“She is quite a bit younger and actually played with my sister,” Appeman said. “But we have worked together for so long because I would pitch to their youth team and she would always be my catcher. This is her first full year of actually catching for me after filling in for a few games last year. She does an amazing job back there and we work very well together.”
From the Start
It takes a unique and special athlete to be an elite high school softball pitcher. While many are naturals, Appeman admitted that wasn’t the case for her growing up, though she knew pitching was what she wanted to do.
“Right when I picked up the sport, I decided I wanted to be a pitcher,” Appeman said. “I was terrible. I kept at it because it was really what I wanted to do. I went to a pitching coach when I was 10 and since then, it has been so much fun. I cannot stand playing when I am not pitching. I like to be in control.”
While every pitcher has that one moment that solidifies their minds that it is what they should be doing, Appeman’s came during a 12 and under game.
“When I played in 12U, I knew this was the position for me,” Appeman said. “I pitched every game. I wasn’t very good, but I was the only pitcher we had. We played in a North Coast League game against Clyde and I had my first really good game. From then on, I was hooked because it felt so good to be able to perform that well.”
It is by determination and the will to be successful that led Appeman to a career of strikeouts and wins.
The Norwalk Lady Truckers have enjoyed an impressive 2016-17 athletic year. The tennis team kept on winning capturing the NOL title and sending a pair of players to state, the soccer team won a sectional championship and the volleyball team took home a district title and an NOL title in the final season.
This winter, the girls’ basketball team won its first ever district championship in school history while a number of swimmers put up impressive individual seasons. Now on the softball diamond, the Lady Truckers are 11-6 and looking to piece together some post season magic of their own.
“Every girls team in every sport has done so well this year so it is great to see that we are up there with them too,” Appeman said. “It has been a lot different this year with a new coach and a lot of new teammates, but it is great to see we are living up to our own expectations.”
The expectations were a bit of an unknown with a lot of new faces coming in, but it was the expectations set by the previous season’s teams that have the Lady Truckers excited for the rest of the way.
“We have a very young team so it has been a lot to just adjust to everything,” Appeman said. “A lot of us are playing new positions since we lost most of our team from last season. Every one works very well together and I think we kind of came out of no where. I don’t think anyone really expected us to have the season we are having so far. It has been very nice.”
For the season, Appeman has a 10-5 record with a 1.88 earned run average in 103 2/3 innings. She has given up just 26 earned runs while walking only 20 batter and striking out 149 during her senior season. Not only does she dominate in the circle, but she carries a .434 batting average as the team’s No. 4 hitter.
This spring, Appeman signed a letter of intent to play softball at Ohio Dominican University next spring where she will be suiting up for the Panthers in the pitcher’s circle.
Exactly where she wants to be.