“Spinderella” Leads John Curtis To #1 Class 5A Power Rating; #2 In Select Division I

By Mike Strom // Contributor


Aka, for the uninformed, the moniker in question belongs to that of John Curtis softball standout Katie Kempton.

What began as a good-natured, affectionate reference from past pitching coaches earned during a childhood of playing year-round travel ball has come to define the pitching prowess of the Lady Patriots right-hander.

Revolutions per second (RPS) rather than miles per hour (MPH) is what Kempton hangs her visor on when she’s on the mound and not pounding opposing pitchers as a short, but slugging first baseman.

“That’s because I do not throw very hard,’’ Kempton said with a chuckle in explaining the catchy nickname. “I have the ability to throw hard, but I choose not to. I am better at spinning the ball and making the ball move away from the batter than I am at blowing it past them.’’

Kempton came to that realization during her freshman year at Curtis when the now 5-foot-3 (“on a good day’’) senior decided to make a leap of faith, to transition to spinner, with an eye toward eventually breaking into the starting rotation.

The move has proven most fortuitous as Kempton has utilized a wicked curve ball and variations thereof to transition into the role of catalyst for Curtis softball the past two seasons.

After advancing to the Division I state semifinals a year ago, the Lady Patriots carry a 20-5 overall record, an undefeated Catholic League championship and Division I Select’s No. 2 power rating behind reigning state champion St. Thomas More heading into the final week of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association season. The Lady Patriots also are 12-0 since March 8 with two regular-season games remaining.

“There is nothing too big for her and there’s not a moment too big,’’ Curtis coach Jerry Godfrey said of Kempton. “Katie’s been doing it for so long. She has competed at a real high level and we play such a real tough schedule, so we don’t have to get into district and the playoffs and all of a sudden we’re playing a big game and it’s loud and it’s noisy, it’s competitive. So there is not a moment too big.

“Pitching-wise,’’ Godfrey adds, “you can’t tell if she’s thrown seven balls in a row or seven strikes in a row. She just goes up and does it again for the next (batter).’’

A five-year varsity starter at first base dating to 8th grade, Kempton has added the role of staff ace in her final two seasons on the bump to earn a softball scholarship to the University of Mobile as a pitcher and hitter. As a senior, Kempton has posted a 10-2 record as part of a three-pitcher rotation while striking out 86 batters in 82 2/3 innings, allowing 64 hits and compiling an ERA of 2.12.

At the plate, Kempton leads Curtis with seven home runs while ranking second on the team with 36 RBI and third in batting average at .452. Her slugging percentage is 1.000 and on-base percentage is .543.

“Hitting-wise there is not a pitch she cannot hit,’’ Godfrey said. “And when she gets around on it, (the ball) gets out of here in a hurry. She can bunt and run. She can do whatever she has to, to get on base. And, really, she’s been like that since she’s been with us.’’

Kempton set the bar high, beginning in her freshman year when she earned Most Valuable Player honors in the Division I Select state tournament in Sulphur by leading the then top-seeded Lady Patriots to a state title with a 7-0 victory against No. 3 Mount Carmel in the finals. Kempton homered and totaled three hits in the victory.

“It was really surreal,’’ Kempton said. “When we sat out there on the field (after the game) waiting for the award to get announced, I was really like, ‘OK, it’s going to be the senior or it’s going to be Kai (Goodman) because Kai pitched that game. I was like, ok, they’re going to get it and I can’t wait to cheer for them.’ And as soon as my name was called, my face dropped. It was surreal. I never expected that, me as a freshman first baseman, would get it in that game.’’

Since then, Kempton said she focused “every year on doing better.’’

“That was a great accomplishment, but I was like it was on to the next,’’ Kempton said. “Try to get better the next day. That’s what I’ve been doing every day since freshman year, trying to get better every day that goes on.’’

On the field, the Lady Patriots repeated as Division I Select state champions in her sophomore year. Then last season, as a No. 3 seed, the Lady Patriots advanced to the semifinals where Curtis fell to No. 2 Tioga, 6-5.

“Katie has played in every big game that we’ve had,’’ Godfrey said of Kempton’s varsity career. “She’s played at either first or pitched. She goes up there and she does her thing. Everyone knows what she’s going to do and everyone has a plan about what they want to do, but you also have to hit (the pitch).

“She’s not going to blow it past you a whole lot. When she’s on, she does a very good job of hitting her spots and mixing her speeds up and trying to stay consistent and then let her defense work behind her. She does try to stay away from walks. We all do, but she really truly does stay away from (issuing) walks. And it gives us an opportunity.’’

Pitching for a program renown for two legendary flame-throwers in Ashley and Katie Brignac, Kempton has followed the route of another familiar name in Curtis softball, that of fellow spinner Jessica Barksdale, circa of the early 2000s.

“Katie has developed over time some different spins off of (her pitches), that it’s not your traditional curve ball,’’ Godfrey said. “She’s not going to overpower you and everybody knows that. When you’re watching the ball and you see it (leave) out of her hand, you think I’m going to hit this thing and then it moves on you. And it dies in a different spot, in, out, up, down, in front of you.

“So out of her hand it looks really good and then when it gets to (the batter), it doesn’t look so good when they’re trying to put a bat on it.’’

“I have variations of throwing (the ball) up, throwing it down, regular curve, backdoor curve, drop curve; I can throw the curve up,’’ Kempton said. “There’s just a lot I can do with (the ball), really with any movement pitch, along with a rise ball, a screw ball and a change-up. I’m just very into movement pitches.’’

That was evident Tuesday when Kempton pitched and hit the Lady Patriots past Chapelle, 10-2, to win the District 9-5A championship. Kempton struck out 11 while hitting a homer, double, single and sacrifice fly to total 5 RBI.

Kempton also is very much into this Curtis team that returns only four starters from last season, but appears to possess all of the necessary ingredients to make another run at what would be the program’s 13th state crown.

Senior pitcher/third baseman Kai Goodman leads the team in batting average (.486) and RBI (40) to go with five home runs. Freshman catcher Kinsley McInnis ranks second in batting (.456), third in RBI (35) and has two homers while left fielder Molly Percle (.438 batting, 37 runs), center fielder Shelby Vitrano (.397, 22 RBI, 32 runs) and 8th-grade second baseman Gracey Hebert (.370, 20 RBI) are other significant offensive contributors.

Defensively, senior shortstop Kira Manganello has been the glue holding the infield together behind Kempton, Goodman and No. 3 starter, freshman McKayla Escude.

“I think this team hasn’t even hit its stride yet,’’ Kempton said. “We have so much talent that we can offer on the field. I really hope that it just sparks up during the playoffs because it’s that playoff mindset that you really want to lock in and really be focused on the game. I really think that’s where we’re going to shine.

“I do think we have all of the parts. We have an amazing outfield. We have a great defensive infield. Any time I’m pitching, I know for sure that if there is a pop-up behind me that my outfield is going to catch it or if there is a ground ball behind me, my infield will go and get it and do everything that they can to go make that play.’’

But, make no mistake, the ring is the thing for all Curtis softball teams.

“I’m very happy that we won a big game against Chapelle,’’ Godfrey said. “But, at the end of the day, I’m not interested and our team is not interested in a district championship. If (all) we put is a district championship patch on our jackets, then it’s been a let-down season for us. We want to be a state champion. That’s why we practice and play. That’s why we do all of the things that we do.

“I know a lot of places make a big thing about district (championships) which is good. I’m not trying to knock (winning) district. Back in the old days when we had a nice 32-team bracket, district was a big, big thing. Now everybody in my district is going to make the playoffs, and they’re all good teams. We might have (a district rival in the playoffs) in two weeks again.

“So (the current LHSAA playoff model) kind of takes away from this whole thing of battling because in the old days you might not see your district opponent again until the finals or semifinals or something like that. We all know our goal. When we won the other day (versus Chapelle), I told (the team) we won’t even celebrate it, we won’t talk about it and it’s over. We won.’’

A National Honor Society student and softball-only athlete, Kempton has excelled on and off the field at Curtis. She carries a 3.96 grade-point-average with a weighted GPA of 4.0.

“Just that one B,’’ Kempton said wistfully, again with a smile. “It was in Algebra II (her sophomore year). I had a high B, too, and I was trying everything I could to get that B to go up and I couldn’t.’’

Two other tidbits about Kempton . . .

She commutes daily from Ponchatoula where her family, father Benji (a former Curtis football player) and mother Tracey (Archbishop Blenk), relocated from Marrero about 10 years ago.

Maybe more interesting is the fact she and Godfrey’s son, Bryce, an All-Metro and All-State offensive lineman, have been dating for the past 3½ years or midway through their freshmen year. Their relationship has led Katie, an only child, to develop almost a sister-like relationship with Brynn Godfrey, Bryce’s sister and freshman Curtis softball player.

“At first it was kind of strange,’’ Kempton said of dating her coach’s son. “It took time to get adjusted to it. But we got it figured out. I separate Coach Jerry and Jerry as my friend. There’s a time when I switch it up. There’s a time and a place when I know he’s trying to be my coach and then when he’s my friend.’’

“Katie is a very, very quiet girl,’’ Jerry Godfrey said. “She dates my son, so I see her a lot. Which is OK with me. She has been really a huge mentor for my daughter (Brynn), who’s a freshman and who plays for us. They call one another ‘Sis and Sis.’

“I am on my daughter’s (butt, as a coach) as you can imagine, so I think Katie’s has been the calmer. She tells her, don’t worry about all of (noise Godfrey makes), let’s go make a play. (Brynn) really has done a good job and I attribute that to Katie.’’

All that’s left is to tie a bow around some unfinished business.

“It’s been an amazing season,’’ Kempton said. “We had a little bit of a shaky start, but I would rather have a little bit of a shaky start than have it happen at the end of the season. I think we’re really starting to gel as a team and hopefully we take that into the playoffs.

“Any time we talk about (goals), we always say when we win the state championship. We’re staying positive about it. We’re expecting to win it. We really want it this year.’’