The San Jose Archbishop Mitty graduate had one of the most memorable seasons for a softball player in California and has been a member of the US National Team for several years. She also led Oklahoma to an NCAA title. Here’s what we wrote about Keilani after her senior year with the Monarchs.
(Editor’s note: Associate editor Harold Abend frequently does the writeups for Ms. Softball and Ms. Basketball during his more than 15 years working with us. This one is one of his best.)
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It was the top of the first inning of the championship game of the Livermore Stampede.
ESPN RISE FAB 50 top-ranked Sheldon of Sacramento was 18-0 and colliding with Archbishop Mitty of San Jose, a top five FAB 50 squad itself at 20-0, and with a hurler in the circle, Keilani Ricketts, who was 13-0 at the time and hadn’t given up an earned run yet on the season.
When Sheldon’s Cal-bound Lindsey Ziegenhirt blasted a two-out solo home run in the top of the first, Ricketts and the Monarch girls could very easily have folded.
Instead, Ricketts knuckled down and struck out Cal-bound Jolene Henderson to end the inning.
“After the home run, I figured with the kind of team they have I know they were going to score but I knew our offense was strong and we could come back,” Ricketts recalled.
The girls, and Keilani in particular, came back in a big way, and in a hurry, and it was Sheldon that blinked.
After Henderson struck out the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the first, Lindsay Norton slapped a base hit, Miyuki Navarete reached on an error, and up stepped Ricketts.
Henderson went with an outside fastball and the left-handed hitter and pitcher launched a high, deep shot to exactly the same place as Ziegenhirt, well over the left-centefield fence.
With one swing of the bat, Mitty had all the runs it would need in an eventual 5-2 victory, and the term “They Got Ricketted” was born.
The 6-foot-2 Oklahoma-bound fireballer went on to strike out 20, all swinging, including Henderson in three at-bats. In the final strikeout of the Sheldon star, she blew a 70-mph fastball right past her.
It was at that moment Ricketts stamped herself as a favorite for the state’s top softball player award, yet she still showed little emotion after the big homer or the big victory, preferring to pose for pictures and exchange pleasantries with Henderson and Ziegenhirt.
“I was excited after the home run but I don’t like to show emotion or let other people see what I’m feeling,” she said in a humble tone.
After the Sheldon victory, she “Ricketted” eight of the team’s last 11 opponent in a perfect 32-0 season that left the Monarchs at the top of the heap at No. 1 in the nation for the final FAB 50. Keilani never gave up another earned run for the remainder of the season.
With that kind of performance, it left little doubt as to who should be this year’s CalHiSports.com Ms. Softball State Player of the Year.
Ricketts is not the first player from the Bay Area to be Ms. Softball since Amanda Williams from Freedom of Oakley earned the nod just three years ago, but she is the first to get it from the CIF Central Coast Section. In 2003, Monica Abbott of North Salinas was almost chosen, but was runner-up to San Diego University City’s Lisa Dodd.
Ricketts finished 22-0, with an ERA of 0.10 and had 347 strikeouts.
From the batter’s box, Keilani hit .456, with nine home runs (tied for tops in the CCS), four triples, six doubles, 36 RBI, and an on-base of .537 and a slugging percentage of .975, all against as tough a league and non-league schedule as any team in California.
“I would have to say Keilani is the best we’ve ever had at Mitty,” said Monarch’s head coach Sarah Thomas, who in five years at the Monarchs’ helm has won five straight CCS Division III titles.
“Obviously her pitching is where she’s above and beyond everyone else, but her hitting, fielding and base running is just as good. She’s just an overall great athlete,” continued Thomas, who for the past four years also has served as Mitty’s assistant athletic director.
“It says a lot about her to do what she’s done,” Thomas told Cal-Hi Sports when informed her star was going to be Ms. Softball. “It’s pretty impressive since she’s never been the only pitcher. She’s had to compete with others on the team. We’ve had a lot of great pitchers come through here but Keilani’s on another level.”
Last season, Ricketts shared time in the circle with her sister, Stephanie, who is now at Hawaii where she was named 2009 WAC Freshman of the Year and selected as the All-WAC second team pitcher.
Yet, the younger sister still managed to post an 11-1 record with a 1.61 ERA and 172 strikeouts. She also hit .525 with four home runs.
This year, it was Vanessa Alvarez who shared pitching duties with Ricketts, with the 5-foot-2 freshman posting a 10-0 record and 0.24 ERA with 117 strikeouts.
Ricketts has also missed early games in each of her three years of varsity softball because she’s also been a star on head coach Sue Phillips’ basketball teams.
In each of those years, the Monarchs’ squad has gone deep into the playoffs, winning the Division II state championship in 2007 and 2008, and this year having its season ended in a triple-overtime loss to eventual D2 state runner-up Carondelet of Concord.
By then the softball season was already underway, and at the time Thomas told Cal-Hi Sports it would take Ricketts a few weeks to get into softball shape.
For basketball last season, Keilani was the team’s leading rebounder and shot-blocker with 9.3 and 1.8 per game averages, respectively. She was also third on the team in scoring with 8.9 ppg mark.
There is little doubt Keilani would be where she is without the support of her biggest fans, her family.
Mom Carol and dad Jeff were at just about every game. Carol, a nurse, played softball, basketball and volleyball in high school and also played Rec league softball. Jeff, a sergeant in the San Jose Police Department, who also serves in an official capacity in the Police Officer’s Association, played football in high school and wrestled in college.
Keilani also has an older brother, Richard. He played football at Mitty and is currently playing at Air Force Academy.
Besides Stephanie, there is the oldest sibling, Samantha. She was a star slugger at Mitty and went on to be first team All Big-10 at Oklahoma, where she just graduated.
“I’ve been a big Oklahoma fan since Samantha went there, and she had a lot to do with my decision to go there,” Keilani said. “It’s great that she’s going to be a grad assistant the next three years. But not just that. I love the program, the community and the environment there.”
And what about playing both softball and basketball in college?
“The (basketball) coach asked me if I was interested in walking on but I don’t think I can do it,” Ricketts said. “I love basketball and softball, and whatever season it was, each was my favorite sport, but for college the seasons are just too close together.”
Ricketts, who also has a solid 3.0 GPA, added that she plans on studying pre-med in college with an eye on becoming a physical therapist.
Does Ricketts dream of starring at the College Softball World Series on ESPN in nearby Oklahoma City? Of course, she does. The road will be long but if she can perform like some of the recent Ms. Softball winners her chances are pretty good.
“I think it’s awesome and incredible for Keilani to get mentioned with all those other most recent girls who won Ms. Softball,” Thomas remarked.
“I’m really honored to be included with all those girls who made a name for themselves,” said Ricketts when the names of the past seven winners were read to her from the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book and Almanac.
Keilani also has some advice for other young girls who someday dream of being where she is today in softball or in any sport are playing.
“If you love your sport enough you’ll do what it takes to be the best. So go out and work every day until you can’t take it anymore because that’s what it takes to be on top.”
Right where Keilani Ricketts is at right now. On top of the California softball world as the Ms. Softball State Player of the Year.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend