High school softball: West’s ‘rock’ Brooke Kennerly headed to App State

Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 9, 2023

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan softball catcher Brooke Kennerly likes umpires more than fans do.

Kennerly’s dream career is ESPN softball commentator, so she chats amiably with everyone — even umpires.

“I started catching when I was 7 because my team needed a catcher and my coach asked me to try it,” Kennerly said. “I loved it. I found that working with the pitchers was really cool, and it was also cool getting to work with the umpires and understanding the job that they’re doing out there. It’s cool to be able to talk to an umpire.”

While Kennerly’s gift for gab is exceptional and should take her far in life, her catching skills and her ability to swing a bat will provide the first step on the road to color commentary — a college education.

“Volleyball has also been an important part of my life, so the hardest choice along the way was to prioritize volleyball or softball,” Kennerly said. “But I started understanding in high school that my strong suit was what I could do for my team as a catcher.”

Kennerly is part of an eight-person Appalachian State signing class. The Mountaineers recruit far and wide and are bringing in players from Indiana, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Georgia. But they also recruit in-state and landed some of Kennerly’s travel-ball teammates on coach Gary Simpson’s North Carolina Bandits — Davie middle infielder Summer Simpson and Chatham Central outfielder Jaylee Williams.

“The Bandits were helpful as far as recruiting,” Kennerly said. “In eighth grade I made a list of three schools I was interested in— UNC Wilmington, Lenoir-Rhyne and Appalachian State. The Bandits get schools that you like to come watch you play. But you still don’t know if those schools are interested in you until they can start contacting you on September 1 of your junior year. When I got a call from Appalachian, it was a thrill. Then when I visited there, I felt that family atmosphere like we have at West Rowan, and Boone is such a beautiful place. It wasn’t a hard decision to commit early.”

Kennerly began playing baseball at age 3 in Tee Ball and then Coach Pitch leagues.

Travel softball with the Razorbacks and moving behind the plate for the first time came at age 7.

Kennerly started making it into the sports pages of the Salisbury Post during her days with Rowan Little League teams coached by Steve Yang, Rob Hales and Eric Dowling.

Kennerly came through two huge hits when Rowan beat Wilkes County 5-3 for the 2017 state championship.

Kennerly was one of the girls who played in the World Series in Portland, Oregon, in 2016 and 2017.  Both of those Rowan Little League teams finished as runner-up to Texas teams, but the girls had the opportunity to play on the international stage and on television. Beyond that, they had a chance to communicate with people on a global level.

“As you get older those World Series wins and losses don’t mean as much, but that experience will stay with me my whole life,” Kennerly said. “When we went out to Oregon, we made our mark, we made a good impression on people, and we made friends everywhere. Everyone was glad when Rowan Little League would make it back to the World Series. Even more than the games I remember meeting (ESPN’s) Holly Rowe at the Little League World Series, talking to her and seeing what she did, and I knew that’s what I would love to be able to do if I could.”

Kennerly’s West Rowan career got off to a slow start. COVID stopped her freshman season after three games.

But she put up exceptional numbers as a sophomore and junior, batting right at .400 and totaling 10 homers and 62 RBIs. She socked homers in some of West’s biggest games. In the 2021 state playoffs, she hit one to the opposite field against North Buncombe pitcher Karlyn Pickens, who is now a freshman standout at Tennessee. Kennerly’s line-drive homer was the only extra-base hit Pickens allowed that entire season.

“A 3-and-0 pitch and Coach gave me the green light, so I swung hard,” Kennerly said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Kennerly’s catching has been at least as critical to the success of her teams as her RBIs. As a receiver, she’s won everything from Little League World Series Catcher Award to the Greater Piedmont Hot Stove Catcher Award.

“Brooke is an outstanding catcher that comes to us as a natural leader behind the plate,” App State head coach Shelly Hoerner said. “She directs the game very well and we look for her to show some power at the plate.”

Kennerly has made herself one of the fittest Falcons as a regular in the gym and she’s racked up a nice string of all-county, all-conference, all-region and All-State accolades.

“Brooke is one of the school’s strongest and best athletes, and she has been a rock behind the plate for us since she got here,” West coach Jimmy Greene said. “When she was a young kid, she played up with the older girls and she understands the game of softball and understands catching in a way that very high school players do. She’s too hard on herself sometimes, but she holds herself to a very high standard and her work ethic has made her a great player. I can see her coaching her on team someday.”

Kennerly has eight RBIs in the five playoff games she’s played in.

West is gearing up for a run this season, so her high school career is going to end either in a playoff game — or with a 3A state championship.

“You always want to win the conference, but when we talked about goals before the season, the one thing we talked about was state,” Kennerly said. “State is all we wrote down, and we all believe we have a chance. It started coming together for us this week. Now we just have to keep it going.”