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Unexpected catch

Kaylee Gibson lacks neither talent nor personality.

But on a softball team brimming over with both, the Merced College sophomore's contribution can be overlooked.

And that's how it went with the all-conference voting.

Six other She-Devils drew first-team honors, with Gibson receiving a a respectable second-team nod at catcher -- the Central Valley conference's deepest position.

All six of MC's first-teamers were deserving -- but other than MVP Megan McColloch, no She-Devil was more crucial to the team's success than Gibson.

"Kaylee's ability to shift to catcher was everything for us," MC coach Steve Cassady said. "It was the difference between having someone back there that you trust, and trying to build one the entire year from someone who may have done it once or twice in their lives.

"Her contributions have been huge, because it's such an important position."

Cassady's season was thrown into turmoil in the opening month when projected starting catcher Amber Vineyard suffered an injury to her throwing arm.

With no set backup, Gibson got the nod.

"I think it's gone well. I really enjoy it," Gibson said. "I started every game at catcher my junior year at Buhach Colony, so I knew the position.

"But after a few years, it took a few weeks for me to feel comfortable back there again."

Gibson's physical tools returned quickly, but learning the nuances of her staff took a little longer.

"It didn't happen as quickly as I would have liked," Gibson said. "All of them throw different pitches, so I had to learn how they move and when they like to throw them."

Cassady's been pleased with Gibson's natural ability to manage games.

"She does everything you could hope for," Cassady said. "She frames well, has soft hands, reads the pitchers well and can point out mechanical flaws.

"She lets me know when they're becoming less effective. And she can soften up umpires when my wit upsets them."

Hitting ninth in the order, Gibson's offensive production tends to be overshadowed, as well.

The sophomore hit .333, leading the team with six triples and finishing fourth with 18 RBI.

Not typical numbers from the No. 9 hitter, Gibson doesn't mind being underestimated.

"The way I see it, I'm a second leadoff hitter," she said. "I go up there with the attitude that I'm going to get on and Mallory (Bair) is going to drive me in."

Gibson's ability to get on and steal bases has allowed Bair (21 RBI) to be potent from the lead-off spot.

And Gibson's only gotten better.

With the ability to bunt, slap or swing away, the lefty constantly gives opposing pitchers pause.

Gibson also hit a team-high .509 in CVC play.

"A lot of teams let down because I'm the nine hitter," Gibson said. "I usually see how they're playing me and adjust to it in the at-bat."

As successful as her season has been, the perfectionist in Gibson still has one major criticism of her move back behind the dish.

"I haven't done a good job of throwing runners out," Gibson confessed. "My release is quick and my throws have been accurate, but I haven't been seeing the runners quickly enough."

Overcoming those struggles could be crucial as MC (32-15) hosts aggressive Gavilan (33-16) today in the opening round of the NorCal playoffs.

Led by Julie Broyer (33 steals) Gavilan successfully swiped 109 of 136 bases on the season.

"To deal with it, I've started getting ready to throw to second on every single pitch, whether there's a person on base or not," Gibson said. "If they want to try and run on me, I'm down with the challenge."

So far, that formula has worked out just fine.