ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — Edgewood’s Kristen Drake has impressed Warriors softball coach Joel Laughlin many times during her high school career, and she managed to do so again as a senior — even without a season.
During a tournament at the end of June at the Jefferson Girls Area Softball complex, the Warriors needed someone to patrol center field and Drake, who had played in the infield during her first three years at Edgewood, stepped up to the plate.
“We found out the other night she’s a heck of an outfielder,” Laughlin said with a laugh.
Drake’s versatility in the field is one of the reasons why her softball playing career will extend beyond high school. She plans to attend Lakeland Community College next school year where she will begin her journey toward a nursing career as well as take the softball field for at least two more years.
“I definitely knew I wanted to play at the next level and Joel helped me out on that one,” Drake said recently. “[Lakeland coach Jeff] Morganti contacted me and I had a tryout and everything, and I knew I really wanted to play there.”
In Drake, Laughlin said Lakeland is acquiring a hard-nosed player who is as reliable as it gets on and off the field. He said she never missed a game, and believes she never even sat for one single inning during her time at Edgewood.
Her on-the-field success speaks for itself, and it did not take long for her to get things rolling on the varsity level. Starting in the season-opener as a freshman, Drake admitted to allowing a few ground balls roll through her legs early on, but those nerves vanished almost immediately — thanks in large part to the support of her teammates, she said.
Laughlin remembers a “baby-faced, young kid” who listened well and worked hard.
“She always worked hard for us, kind of a team leader from point-go,” he said. “Didn’t say nothing as a freshman because she just didn’t know where she fit, but she played and hit and started scoring runs. And people started watching what she was doing, started mimicking what she was doing and said ‘OK, if she’s doing it and it’s working, why shouldn’t I be doing it and it work for me?’”
As a sophomore, Drake hit better than .400 from the plate and earned all-county honors. Her average continued to climb during her junior season.
Drake put together a .580 batting average in the regular season of her junior year, the third-best in the county. She also drove in 34 runs, the fifth-most in the county, and earned first-team all-county honors.
In an early April game against Campbell Memorial, Drake went 4 for 5 with a double and eight RBIs.
She laughed while admitting that she never expected to hit that well, but added that “I definitely was working hard for it to get up there, trying to improve for the next level.”
“I think seeing the pitch a lot better, working on my swing and definitely [being] more comfortable [at the plate],” Drake added.
Drake and Laughlin were hopeful for another jump this past spring before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really wanted to be a good leader for my team and help out as much as I could,” Drake said, adding that her goal was to “put some numbers on” the softball program’s championship banner that hangs inside Edgewood’s gymnasium “because we all knew we could.”
Without a senior season to look back on, Drake did not hesitate when asked what she will remember most about her time at Edgewood.
“Definitely the trip to Myrtle Beach [South Carolina in 2019],” she said. “It was amazing and we all definitely got a lot closer … We got to bond and it’s going to be hard [to leave] because I’ve played with these girls since Little League and we grew even closer in high school. It’s going to be hard.”
While he did not have the chance to see what more Drake could have done with one more season at Edgewood, Laughlin is thankful that he has not seen Drake’s final game.
“I’m glad she’s going [to Lakeland] this way we can all go see her and watch her,” he said. “They’re just getting one heck of a person and a player … We’ll miss her. We’ll miss her a lot.”