(Photos by David Jenkins, Staff)
BENTON -- Sarah Ruff can often be heard yelling at her teammates during a game, "Get up ladies, don't sit down." Immediately a host of Kelly Lady Hawks softball players get up from the dugout bench and begin cheering on their teammates.
This is the kind of leadership Ruff exudes as the lone senior on the Kelly softball team. And it is this leadership that has helped the Lady Hawks return to the Class 2 semifinals today in Columbia.
"It's pretty awesome that we have only one senior and are going (to the final four)," Ruff said. "A lot of the juniors try to support me and then whatever I say they keep it going and pass it down to the younger ones."
Ruff is admittedly very vocal when it comes to getting her point across, something that could be a problem if handled wrong.
"You think being the only senior she would be the big boss out there but she knows she has a role of being a leader and she takes that very seriously," said Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge. "She's not like one of those bosses who get on your nerves. She does it in a joking way but she also does it where it is serious enough that you know to do what your supposed to do. That's the kind of leadership that I like and she gets along with all the girls."
With a team made up of 10 juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, Ruff's leadership is a valuable asset for the Lady Hawks.
"She makes sure nobody gets down," said junior catcher Brittany Brantley. "She wants everyone to stand up and be in the game. She's done a lot to help."
With the young team, the success of the Lady Hawks was a bit of a surprise to Ruff.
"I personally didn't think we were going to do as well because we were really young, but they surprised me a lot and worked really hard," Ruff said. "Personally, I didn't do so good at the beginning but I finally got comfortable and started hitting good at the end."
Ruff has batted .384 this season with 16 RBIs and 25 runs. She also has 23 stolen bases.
"I know a lot of times when she gets on second she will look at me and grin and I know that she is ready to come to third on the steal," Ratledge said. "Coaches usually have a go ahead sign for their players and she has one for the coach. But I know if she is ready to go then she knows she can make it."
While Ruff is a good hitter, she shines as a center fielder. An over-the-
shoulder catch against Principia in the state quarterfinal game helped keep the game scoreless and a leaping catch against Jackson earlier in the season saved a home run, and possibly the game.
"She's among the best outfielders in Missouri," Ratledge said. "You know when the ball is hit to either left or right, Sarah is going to be out there backing it up. She's had a lot of putouts out there and she's saved us a couple games."
Ruff is a long way removed from her freshman year when Ratledge said she wanted to play infield.
"She was such a good outfielder, so quick," Ratledge said. "She has an extremely good arm and she will gun (a runner) down at the plate. I think that was one of the reasons she wanted to play infield was because she has such a good arm."
Ruff began starting on varsity as a junior and had such a good season she was named to the All-State team after helping the Lady Hawks to the state semifinals.
"For her to be All-State as a junior, I was afraid it would put a little pressure on her this year," Ratledge said. "But, she handled it well."
So well that the Lady Hawks have an opportunity to bring home a state championship this weekend.
"I'm proud of my girls," Ratledge said. "They've stood behind each other the entire season."
And Ruff has made sure of that.