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Decade’s best No. 6: Loyalsock’s Kayla Gee was tough, hard worker

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series looking back at the Top 10 softball teams, coaches, games and players from the last decade.

Kayla Gee already had overcome a torn ACL so a night in the emergency room could not slow her down. Gee missed all but one game of her junior year with that ACL injury and was just a few games into her 2016 comeback season when she caught the flu and spent an early April night at the emergency room.

The next afternoon Gee threw a complete-game five-hitter, struck out 13 and went 2 for 4 with three RBIs as Loyalsock defeated rival South Williamsport. That performance personified Gee who put together a spectacular high school career from 2013-16 despite losing that junior season. A two-time Sun-Gazette Player of the Year and all-state selection, Gee developed into one of the district’s best hitters and pitchers before continuing to shine at Lock Haven, culminating her softball journey with a PSAC championship last spring.

“I’m still working on getting my strength back, but I think I’m mentally tougher now than I was before,” Gee said after that 2016 performance against South. “It’s really exciting. I worked really hard to come back and play again.”

“She is a great kid and seeing her injured was tough, but she worked hard and rehabbed and came back and played basketball with the same intensity that she had before the injury,” former Loyalsock coach Craig Weaver Sr. said. “Now she has come back to the mound the same way.”

Really, Gee just picked up from where she had left off in 2014. Anyone who watched her play as a senior never would have known that Gee had suffered a devastating injury just a year earlier. She was the same determined, hard-working player she was as a freshman and helped Loyalsock continue shining. Gee went 47-13 in three seasons at Loyalsock, striking out 400 and never posting an ERA higher than 2.35. She also .432 and .472, respectively as a sophomore and senior, winning Player of the Year and earning all-state each time. Had 2015 not been erased, Gee possibly could have earned those honors three times.

Gee was a major reason Loyalsock won three HAC-II championships and won at least 17 games in each season she played. To truly measure Gee’s impact, however, look at what happened in 2015 when she did not play. Loyalsock won just seven games and missed the playoffs for the only season since 1999. When she returned in 2016, the Lancers went 19-3, won another league title and reached the District 4 Class AAA semifinals.

“She’s a great pitcher and she’s been strong ever since she’s been a freshman,” third baseman and fellow multiple-time all-stater Kendall Watkins said in 2016. “She really helps carry our defense and it’s exciting having her back.”

It was exciting when she arrived, too. The Lancers made a six-win improvement as Gee settled in as its freshman ace in 2013. Gee showed no fear and excellent poise, twice beating defending Class AA Eastern Region champion Warrior Run and helping Loyalsock reach the district final. She went 12-5 with a 2.35 ERA, striking out 98 in 105 2/3 innings and surrendering just three earned runs in three district playoff games.

It seemed like Gee was 15 going on 35. Nothing rattled her and the toughest situations brought out her best, something which remained true throughout her scholastic and collegiate careers. Gee threw a nine-inning quarterfinal shutout against Towanda, striking out 14, then shut down 2014 state champion Central Columbia in a 4-2 semifinal victory.

“She was calm,” Loyalsock catcher Amanda Daneker said afterward. “She was actually really calm. For how big it was and for her being a freshman, she was great. She’s been calm the whole year and never has been really rattled and that is a great thing to have as a pitcher.”

It helped as a hitter, too, and Gee became elite at that as well the following season. Moving into the middle of the lineup, Gee made enormous strides and hit .432 with 17 RBIs and 17 runs. She struck out just once in 22 games and delivered 10 multi-hit games.

Oh yeah, Gee continued cementing her status as a dominant pitcher a well. The right-hander went 16-5 with a 2.07 EA and 122 strikeouts, improving in all major statistical categories. The Lancers surged down the stretch as did Gee who beat outstanding opponents like Mifflinburg, Williamsport, Towanda and Bloomsburg.

“She’s a big-time pitcher,” Weaver said after Gee threw a five-hitter in a win against Montoursville. “Base runners don’t rattle here and if someone gets on base, it’s, ‘so what?’ She did a great job of bearing down and I think she was even throwing a little harder at the end of the game.”

Gee seemed poised for even bigger things in 2015, but when she tore her ACL in the third game of that winter’s basketball season those aspirations were dashed. Still, it spoke volumes about Gee’s determination and toughness that she recovered fast enough to participate in the team’s final game that year.

Healthy again in 2016, Gee produced her best season and closed her scholastic career with a flourish. She competed like a player who was determined to replace her lost season with a full season’s worth of super memories. She and Watkins, who briefly played together at Niagara before Gee transferred to Lock Haven, were the area’s top two players and helped Loyalsock go 19-3 while edging out District 4 Class AAA champion Milton for the HAC-II championship.

Gee wasted no time showing she was better than before the injury, throwing three straight no-hitters early that season. She also tossed five shutouts, two one-hitters and five two-hitters as Loyalsock returned to the district semifinals.

Turning a negative into a positive, Gee had aggressively attacked her rehab and her legs were stronger than ever, giving her some extra pop on her pitchers. She finished 19-3 with a 1.57 ERA and allowed just 52 hits in 143 innings. Gee also struck out a career-high 180 and surrendered more than two runs in a game just three times.

“It’s her character,” Weaver said. “It’s her maturity as a senior.”

“I hated sitting out, but I think it only made me stronger and better mentally and physically,” Gee said after a 9-5 win against South Williamsport. “It makes me appreciate each game. It makes me play each game like it’s my last because you never know an injury can happen.”

In addition to improving in every pitching category, Gee also did so offensively. She hit .472, homered, collected 34 hits and drove in 18 runs. Loyalsock won 10 straight games before dropping a 2-1 semifinal heartbreaker to defending district champion Wellsboro. Gee did not receive the fairy tale ending she had wanted, but she set quite an example.

She had big-time talent, but Gee also had big-time heart.

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