Richland softball coach Casey Emery was asked the following question about his All-Mid-Columbia Conference sluggers Kayla Andrews and April Utecht.
Who hits the ball further?
He didn’t have to think about it much.
“I’m going to give you two answers,” Emery said. “The farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit was by April in her freshman year against (Kamiakin’s) Lindsey Kamphuis. She dang near hit the ball 300 feet off arguable the best pitcher in the Tri-Cities.
“But the hardest ball, I’ve got to say that’s Kayla. She hits line drive shots from home plate to the fence in an eyeblink. I wouldn’t want to be playing infield with either one of them hitting.”
In fact, Emery has gone as far as to look out for opposing infielders when Andrews or Utecht come up to bat.
“I want to tell their coaches, ‘Do you want to have your third baseman back up? They’re not going to bunt,’ “ Emery said.
The Bombers even changed the rules in batting practice after one too many sedans took a dinger off the hood in the parking lot at Columbia Playfields in Richland.
Instead of putting either one in the batters box for BP, Emery will have Andrews and Utecht set up close to the backstop — nearly 30 feet behind home plate.
Emery said that power comes from their dedication to strength training.
“It goes back to a skills clinic we did when Kayla was in eighth grade. They were going through a hitting station together, and we saw all kind of potential,” Emery said. “We told them they had to get into a weight training program, and they took it to heart.”
It’s all part of a day’s work at the park for Andrews and Utecht, who have played together since they were 11 years old on the Tri-Cities Force 96, a club team coached by Bob Benson of Kennewick.
Their involvement with softball brought them closer together as friends, and their families have found a unique way to turn long road trips and tournaments into relaxing weekends away from home.
“Every tournament, we’re camping together,” Andrews said. “Every summer we’ve been going down to Tucannon, fishing, floating in the creek down there. It’s a very relaxing time.”
Utecht says it’s so relaxing, softball often doesn’t even enter into the equation.
“We play all year, so when we go camping, we don’t like to talk about softball,” Utecht said. “You just let your body relax and enjoy the wilderness.”
But the talented duo does enjoy softball. They enjoy the friendly competition regarding who can drive the ball further over the fence or who can drive in more runs.
Last year, Utecht was far and away the best hitter in the MCC, hitting ..580 with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs on her way to conference MVP honors. Andrews ‘ numbers — .506, eight HRs, 41 RBIs — might have won a triple crown any other year.
Emery likes his chances with either one at bat.
“Honestly, every time they come up I think they’re going to get a hit,” he said. “For the most part, April is a little more selective in what she swings at, while Kayla will swing way out of the zone. If it’s anywhere around the zone, (Andrews’) eyes light up and she hits it 250 feet.”
Both players are on their way to another fantastic season. Utecht is leading the team with a .644 average with seven HRs and 30 RBIs through the end of April. Andrews isn’t far behind, though, leading the team with 32 hits on her way to a .627 average, five HRs and 23 RBIs.
Andrews, who was an all-MCC pitcher in 2012, is back to full strength on the mound as well. Fully healed from a rhomboid injury that limited her innings as a junior, she’s how leading the MCC with a 9-1 record, a 0.269 ERA and 88 strikeouts in her first 11 games.
“I’ve been very impressed. She has been hitting her spots,” said Utecht, a junior who has already committed to play at the University of Oregon. “Her curve is there, her risevall and changeup. Everything has been just perfect.”
Perfect would be nice for Richland’s MCC doubleheader against two-time defending Class 3A state champion Kamiakin. The Braves (10-1 overall, 8-0 MCC) and Bombers (15-1, 10-0) are the only teams remaining in the league with an undefeated slate.
Andrews admits that having a close friend behind the plate has been an added bonus.
“She knows if I’m getting out of my head a litlte, and she’ll come talk to me,” said Andrews, who has a full ride to Mercer College in Atlanta, Ga. “If I’m behind in the count, she’ll yell, ‘Just you and me.’
Andrews’ experience on the mound helps her at the plate, too.
“I watch pitchers a lot when my teammates are hitting, and if I know what the count is, I know what they’re going to throw,” Andrews said. “Sometimes if I can see the spin of the ball, I know what (the pitch) is and I know what to do.”
That’s something Emery and his staff of coaches can count on every day. During a doubleheader against Walla Walla, Emery wanted to replace Utecht at catcher, not wanting to wear her out before the playoffs began. But his pitching coach convinced him not to mess up a good thing, so he stuck with his star battery.
“They do everything together,” Emery said. “When you’re a successful pitcher/catcher battery, you do become friends. They were friends long before they were pitcher and catcher.”
And they always will be.
w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; email@example.com