For Kate Gordon, hitting just comes naturally.
She’ll never admit it, but this junior left fielder from JMU softball is one of the best hitters in the country — the result of an upbringing that groomed her for a career in the batter’s box. Her father, Buck, played baseball and football at Bridgewater College before being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1995. Not to be outdone was her mother, Megan, who was a volleyball and softball player for the Eagles as well.
Kate has had a bat in her hand for almost her entire life, playing one season of T-ball before making the switch to softball for good. She’s bounced between a few defensive positions throughout her career, but one thing about her game has always been consistent: her swing.
“It’s pretty much stayed the same,” Gordon said. “The coaches had me move my hands back freshman year, but my stance and swing haven’t really changed.”
Gordon has a relaxed approach at the plate, maintaining a wide stance followed by a slight leg kick once she loads her swing. The bat then cuts through the zone at a slight upward angle that allows her to lift the ball rather than just slap it into play. As she finishes her swing, both hands stay firmly on the bat, keeping the overall arc strong and compact.
The results? A .900 slugging percentage, nine home runs and 25 runs batted in through the team’s first 20 games — all of which are team highs. She’s locked into a battle with redshirt senior pitcher Megan Good, who also has nine homers on the year, for the team lead in round trippers.
After being named a third-team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association in 2018, Gordon has established herself as one of the premiere hitters in all of college softball.
“She does more than what’s expected, and that’s what it takes to succeed at this level,” associate head coach Jennifer Herzig, who works with the team’s hitters, said. “Kate’s one of the kids that understands [that] what we ask of them — what we require of them — isn’t enough. So when it comes to work ethic, she’s without question one of the best on the entire team.”
When Gordon arrived in Harrisonburg as a freshman, the coaches saw her power potential and had her move both hands farther back in an effort to get the full strength of her body behind her swing and generate more whip. The subtle movement allows her to “load” up prior to moving the bat, something she times based on the opposing pitcher’s windup.
At 5 feet 8 inches, Gordon hardly towers over her teammates like so many other power hitters. Rather, she gets her power from the sound mechanics she’s had ingrained in her approach since she was old enough to pick up a bat. In her words, it “just feels comfortable” and is something that has always come easy for her.
“We don’t really focus that much on her as far as everything in her swing being mechanical,” head coach Loren LaPorte said. “We tweak things here and there but her hand-eye [coordination] is one of the best we have on our team and I think that’s why she’s been so successful.”
After hitting a career-best 14 home runs as a sophomore, Gordon spent a good portion of her offseason training in the weight room. Despite developing into a solid power hitter, she felt that adding on a few pounds of muscle would go a long way toward helping her improve even further.
The Dukes as a team led the nation in home runs per game last season (1.47) and faced the tall task of replicating that success despite the graduation of third baseman Morgan Tolle, who led the team with 18 homers and a .755 slugging percentage. Between Good’s return from a knee injury and Gordon’s improvements, JMU has had no problem picking up where it left off.
Entering play on Wednesday, the Dukes ranked third in the NCAA in home runs per game with 1.7, sitting behind only perennial softball powerhouses Arizona and Arizona State. However, conference play begins on Saturday, when the Dukes host rival Elon in a doubleheader. Given that only one CAA team (Drexel) is allowing more than one homer per game, JMU will have its work cut out for it.
With Gordon batting in the middle of the order, the Dukes know they have a potent bat capable of changing the tide of a game with one quick swing. Just don’t ask her how she does it.
“Some hitters just have great hand-eye, it’s almost like an arm,” LaPorte said. “You can have the same strength as someone else but you don’t have the same arm velocity … It’s just something that’s a natural-born talent and hand-eye’s one of them. It’s something that’s hard to teach.”
CORRECTION (March 21, 12:45 a.m.): A previous version of this article stated that Megan Good was returning from an ACL injury, where Good is actually returning from a knee injury.
Contact Matt Weyrich at email@example.com. For more softball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.