SANDY CREEK — Kendall Darling has overcome knee surgery and some ensuing scares to maintain command of the Sandy Creek softball pitching circle.
The senior has helped lead the Comets to a 5-2 overall record entering the week with a mark of 5-0 in the Frontier League.
She is back in the role of the primary pitcher and a key batter for the second straight season in her third overall varsity campaign, initially moving up as a freshman in 2019.
Darling suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury in February 2020 and was sidelined until early 2021. She was on the mend for what resulted in a canceled season due to COVID-19 concerns, though she originally intended to hold off surgery to play that year.
“I think it takes a while for you to really trust that you have all those capabilities back,” Sandy Creek coach Katie Soluri said. “I can say with 100 percent confidence that she is a stronger player since the injury, and I would say that she is stronger because of the injury. It was just another piece of adversity she had to face, and she took it on.”
Darling left the first quarter of a sectional playoff basketball game in her sophomore year after initially going down with the ailment that would be diagnosed as a torn ACL.
She met with a physical therapist and opted to delay surgery until after softball season, hoping to at least pitch as a sophomore, but underwent the procedure in May when any chance of playing a partial 2020 schedule was ended by state coronavirus mandates.
“I decided I wanted to play that year because it is my favorite sport and I felt like I needed to help the team any way that I could,” Darling said. “So, if it was just pitching, that could be a big help even if I couldn’t run or hit, just doing one thing could help.”
Darling was cleared for a full return to scholastic sports in early 2021 and retook the field last spring for the condensed softball slate. She has since played full soccer and basketball seasons over the past year.
Entering the week, Darling had struck out 18 batters in 17 innings pitched, was sporting a 2.65 earned-run average, and drove in three runs, according to the Section 3 stats website.
“I definitely feel more confident, and I trust it because I’ve been through everything for a year now that I know what I can do, I know my limits,” Darling said.
“I hope to hit as well as I did before I got hurt, and I just want to keep my pitching going in the right direction,” she added.
Darling batted for a .314 average and drove in seven runs in her initial return to the lineup last spring. She handled most of the pitching work while regaining comfort in her knee mobility, racking up 30 strikeouts in 45 innings to go with a 2.79 ERA.
Darling has played travel softball since joining a 12-and-under team and momentarily thought she re-aggravated the injury during a game for the NNY Misfits last summer.
After taking a swing and making contact, Darling said she felt the knee twist and fell to the ground immediately. She was able to shake it off and played the next day, clearing a mental hurdle in her recovery.
She also dislocated her shoulder multiple times during the most recent basketball season which caused a few panicked moments for Soluri watching from the bleachers.
“It was difficult last season, a struggle not knowing what I could do and not feeling comfortable,” Darling said. “I had a scary moment in summer ball, so there was a lot of just testing it, trying it out, make sure it was comfortable.”
Darling was described as a strong leader with a high softball IQ by her head coach and has taken initiative to mentor junior varsity players that often join their practices.
The senior has been splitting much of the pitching work thus far with junior standout Elizabeth Glazier but has the ace role for key games moving forward.
Soluri credited Darling’s ability to develop savvy strategies for facing batters and to utilize the defense by forcing ground and pop outs.
“Kendall is not a story of someone this game came natural to, she fell in love with this game first, and then realized how much work she had to put in to take on the role that she has,” Soluri said.
Darling also takes part in soccer, basketball, marching band, science and history clubs, among others at Sandy Creek.
She is committed to attend Mohawk Valley Community College next fall to study criminal justice and play softball.