It was a big weekend for University of Alabama in Huntsville junior third baseman Kaitlyn Bannister. She entered the weekend as the recipient of the news that she was one of 25 remaining finalists for the Schutt Sport/ NFCA DII National Player of the Year Award. She would leave the weekend making sure she did everything in her power to make one final statement to claim that honor.
“It was very exciting,” Bannister said of being a finalist. “I feel like it’s one of my biggest accomplishments so far. It’s something that me and Coach Les [Steudeman] talked about and he knew I was capable of doing. It was definitely one of my goals I had for this year.”
Bannister opened the weekend series against Union University in record-setting fashion. Behind a 4-for-5 performance that included a pair of three-run home runs, she set the UAH record for RBI in a single-game with 10, a mark that is tied for second all time in the Gulf South Conference.
“It was amazing, but I do have a little regret, because I popped up with bases loaded,” Bannister said with a laugh. “I could have had more. It did feel really great and I was very excited about it because it was in front of my parents, coach and everybody else in Taylor and my teammates especially.”
Not to be out done, she fired back in a double-header the very next day, combining yet again for 10 RBI on the day over both games. Bannister would make more history in the nightcap of the double-header as she launched not one, but two grand slams in the same game. She became only the sixth NCAA DII player to ever accomplish such a feat. When you add those two slams to her season total, she became just the third ever DII softball player to have four grand slams in a single season
“It’s crazy,” Bannister said of being one of six in history to hit the mark. “I got up to the plate before I hit and said to myself, ‘I’m going to swing as hard as I can, I’m not going to think about where the pitch was going to go’. Actually, I didn’t think it was going to make it over the fence. When it went over the fence, I was really surprised.”
All in all, Bannister went 7-for-12 on the weekend, launching four home runs, driving in a remarkable 20 runs and scoring eight more. In a two-day, three-game span, she put up numbers that some players aim to put up in an entire season
“I tell myself that I don’t have any boundaries, and that I can go as far as I want to,” Bannister said. “When I started to do that I felt like I was capable of anything.”
Bannister’s 80 RBI total set yet another UAH record for most in a single season as the mark leads not only the GSC, not only DII, but all of NCAA’s divisions. She also leads the GSC in runs scored with 64 and is fourth with an incredible .417 batting average
Personal accomplishments aside, Bannister’s work is not done. The Chargers — ranked No. 4 overall in a very competitive South Region — head into this weekends GSC tournament against a very tough Delta State team. Delta State kept UAH in check earlier this season, taking two of three games in their weekend series. More importantly, they held the hard-hitting Bannister to a 2-for-10 weekend
“I think it’s going to be a very good matchup,” Bannister said. “They’re one of the teams that us as a team talked about that we hoped for in the first round. It’s going to be easy to get fired up about it, because they did beat us in the regular season. It’s going to be a very good game
“Our conference is very strong. I think that’s another reason that we are so pumped about postseason. This year it’s a very, very strong conference, there are no weak teams at all. That’s another reason why we have been working so hard. We’ve put a lot of hours in and it’s paying off.”
Speaking of home runs, GSC foe University of North Alabama — the GSC regular season champions and No. 1 seed in the South Region — finished their season on a home run tear of their own. UNA crushed 15 home runs in their three-game sweep of Christian Brothers, capped off with a seven home run performance in the regular season finale
Harlie Barkley, Madeline Lee, and Mackenzie Roberts all launched a home run each while Anna Gayle Norris and Peyton DeLong added two a piece in the UNA long ball barrage. Their seven home runs tied a GSC single-game record and put the exclamation point on UNA’s record-setting season. Their 75 team home runs and 46 wins were both bests in program history, while Brooklynn Clark recently took home the first GSC Player of the Year honors in UNA history