Tara Klee evolves as a hitter for UMass softball

By Tom Mulherin

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

After serving as a pitcher all of last year, sophomore Tara Klee made a surprising start in left field for the Massachusetts softball team in Friday’s season opener at the Houston Hilton Plaza Invitational.

Normally, the assumption is that most pitchers can’t hit very well, leaving one apprehensive about seeing a pitcher move into the batting order.

It’s a good thing Klee doesn’t fit into that generalization.

She crushed a two-run homerun over left field in her first at-bat, and finished the game hitting 3-for-3 with two RBIs and scored two runs. Instead of backing down from the new challenge, she emerged as the Minutewomen’s (2-3) powerhouse hitter by the end of the weekend, leaving the invitational with a team-high three homeruns and seven RBIs in five games.

Yes, in just five games, Klee impressed Coach Kristi Stefanoni enough to earn a promotion from being last in the lineup to batting cleanup during next week’s road series. It seems Stefanoni saw something that others couldn’t, and gave the young talent an opportunity to play despite going through struggles on the mound.

“Tara is still working out some issues with pitching,” Stefanoni said. “We’ve got a lot of (pitchers), and Tara is also a hitter and fielder, so she brings a lot more to the table for our offense. The best way to use her at the moment is to put her in the outfield and hit.”

Despite the success that Klee is having at the plate, and the struggles she is having on the mound, Stefanoni said that the position change won’t be permanent and Klee will have pitching opportunities later on in the season.

“She’s still working on pitching,” she said. “She just threw live to our batters before we left for our trip. She’s still working out some mechanical things, but I would probably say she will return to the mound within another two tournaments or so.”

Even with the inevitability of a comeback to pitching occurring, it will most likely be a difficult decision for Stefanoni to pull Klee out of the batting order. After all, the power numbers weren’t the only impressive statistical outburst, as Klee managed to bat 6-for-14 (.357 batting average) overall and posted a .642 on-base percentage (OBP).

The ability to get on base is extremely valuable, which Klee proved to have in the second game of the trip against McNeese State. She didn’t get a hit in the contest, but worked deep at-bats to get two walks, which eventually led to two runs. These are the kind of characteristics that draw up great players, leaving Stefanoni to say that Klee is “absolutely” evolving into a key difference maker.

“She started out the first game at the bottom of the lineup,” said Stefanoni. “After that she moved into the bulk of the lineup, so for her to drive in runs and have really good, deep at-bats for this team is going to make a very big impact. It will allow other people to take some pressure off themselves, and make it easier on the group.”

“When I recruited Tara, I recruited her as a full package – a pitcher, an outfielder, and hitter,” she continued. “It was known very early to her that she was going to hit here, and she was going to hit in the bulk of the lineup. She’s going to play a key role, I think, in the development of our offense this year.”

Tom Mulherin can be reached at [email protected]