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You can only accomplish so much in team sports as an individual.
Seniors Ronnie Ladines and Maddy Grimm have reached heights thought unimaginable as players for the Kent State softball program, producing numbers that have not and may never be matched. Those stats will sparkle much brighter now that they're backed by a Mid-American Conference Tournament title.
Leading the Golden Flashes (32-26) to their first MAC tourney crown since 2008 legitimizes the accomplishments of Ladines and Grimm, who will now get to show off their skills in the NCAA Tournament beginning Friday at No. 15 Baylor (43-12).
"I received my (MAC) Player of the Year award (last week), and I was very thankful for it and very excited. But this (MAC Tournament title) means the most honestly," said Grimm, KSU's star third baseman, who has set program records for career homers (69), runs (172), RBI (192), and walks (131) among many others. "Ronnie and I roomed together (last) week, and I told Ronnie (the player of the year award) was not going to mean the most. I wanted to be (MAC Tournament) champions."
That desire was evident on Saturday, when Kent State won three straight games -- capped by back-to-back victories over 2017 MAC Pitcher of the Year Savannah Jo Dorsey of Ohio -- to capture just the third MAC Tournament championship in program history.
Grimm batted .500 with a homer and three doubles in six MAC Tournament contests, and made several critical plays at third base. In other words, she did what she's done since joining the Kent State program in 2014 after a stellar high school career at Ligonier Valley (Pa.).
"As a freshman you could see Maddy Grimm was going to be something special. Maybe you didn't realize how high she could go, but she came in right way and was something else," said KSU coach Eric Oakley. "It's been awesome to watch her realize a dream of going pro (Grimm was drafted by the Akron Racers last month), but also of winning a MAC championship with her leadership, her defense, just everything she's done. She's one of the best players in the country. It's great to get that (MAC Tournament) championship, so now she can be out on that (NCAA tourney) stage."
While Grimm was an instant sensation for the Flashes, Ladines had to share time in the circle with Emma Johnson -- another of the elite pitchers in KSU history -- during her first two collegiate seasons.
"With Ronnie it's been different. She came in and made some noise as a freshman, then her sophomore year she had to watch Emma take off," said Oakley. "Emma was inspired by getting challenged from Ronnie and took her game to another level."
Johnson was drafted by the NPSL's Pennsylvania Rebellion and won seven games at the pro level from 2015-16. She led the Flashes to 41 wins and a MAC regular season title in 2015, but never pitched in the NCAA Tournament.
"When I was with Emma a couple years ago (as KSU's pitching coach) that was the most disappointing thing, knowing that Emma deserved to be on the national stage and she didn't get the chance," said Oakley.
Ladines filled Johnson's shoes admirably as a junior last season, going 23-10 with a 2.54 ERA while leading Kent State to its second straight MAC regular season championship.
"Emma was a great person to look up to, a great role model and a great match for me to try to become someone like her," said Ladines. "My junior year is when I decided to step out and make a name for myself for Kent State softball."
Despite Ladines' personal success, the Flashes exited the 2016 MAC Tournament early -- going 2-2. Ladines would not be denied this spring, dominating the 2017 MAC tourney both in the circle and at the plate like never before.
Ladines pitched in all six games, going 4-1 with a save and a 1.06 ERA. The Washington native threw 33 innings in four days, allowing just 20 hits and six walks while striking out 34.
While her success in the circle was no shock, Ladines' prowess at the plate stunned everyone. Ladines entered the tournament as a .258 hitter, and promptly batted .529 (9-for-17) with four homer runs, two doubles and seven RBI to nail down the MAC Tournament MVP award with authority.
"If she wouldn't have pitched an inning she would have had an argument for MVP on her offense alone," said Oakley.
Ladines has done more than replace Johnson. She, along with Grimm, has become irreplaceable in her own right.
"She's really made her mark as her own unique brand of pitcher at Kent State," said Oakley. "She's gone from a nice, respectable career to one for the record books. She's accomplished some things that none of our other great pitchers ever accomplished -- a perfect game, MAC Tournament champions, MAC Tournament MVP. Now (freshman Madi) Huck and the pitchers that come in the next couple years are going to have to try to replace Ronnie, and that's really cool."