Shortstop becoming Keen at knocking in runs

Senior Rachel Keeney has more RBIs this year than her first three years’ together.

Chris Lempesis

Rachel Keeney didn’t even know about it until someone told her recently. But when she found out, she wasn’t shocked because she knew her time would come.

And it has.

After totaling 19 RBIs in her first three years on Minnesota’s softball team, the shortstop is peaking in her final year with the Gophers as one of the team’s top run-producers.

In fact, Keeney currently leads the team with 20 RBIs. She is also either putting up or on pace to put up career highs in several other categories, including runs (17), hits (22) and slugging percentage (.286).

For a player who has consistently started for the past two years, the spike in numbers is particularly notable.

“I’m not surprised, because when people work hard, hard work tends to pay off,” Keeney said. “I think half of that (success) is expecting it – expecting the hard work to pay off.”

Senior right fielder Stephanie Sward credited Keeney’s resilient attitude.

“She’s always worked hard and just stuck with it and never doubted that it would come,” Sward said.

Keeney credited her determination, because she said she really hasn’t made any dramatic changes this season in terms of her plate approach.

Co-coach Lisa Bernstein said another reason for the numbers boost can be found in the departure of last season’s second-leading run-producer, first baseman Hailee Nanchy.

“Rachel knew that this team needed somebody to step up, and she just put it upon herself,” she said. “(She) put the pressure on top of her own shoulders, and she’s just kind of doing a great job with it.”

Keeney has also been put in a better position to knock in runs this season than she has in past years.

She batted in both the sixth and seventh spots in the lineup last season for Minnesota. But this season, Keeney was moved up in the lineup and has mainly batted cleanup.

The Gophers have used their speed at the top of the lineup to get runners on base, and Keeney has been able to get them in.

“It makes you really relaxed as a hitter to go up there knowing wherever you put the ball, those base runners are going to score,” Keeney said.

“So when I get up to bat, I just know that I have to put the ball in play, and they’ll do their best to score.”

Sometimes, a statistically successful year early on in a player’s career can make him or her take that success for granted. The fact that Keeney’s career-year is coming in her final season with the Gophers has made her appreciate her success that much more.

Even if she did know it was on its way.

“Senior year is when you’re really the most experienced,” she said. “And it’s nice to see that experience showing through in something else other than little things off the field.”