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We caught up with Ole Miss softball icon Kaitlin Lee on her playing days and coaching career

“If I wasn’t showing emotion, there was something wrong.”

Ole Miss Athletics

Kaitlin Lee had the best pitching career in the history of Ole Miss softball. Period.

She broke the school single-season records for complete games, innings pitched and starts, ranks second all-time with 41 wins and 14 shutouts, and led the 2017 team to an SEC Tournament Championship with one of the most impressive weeks in softball history. The Gulfport, Miss. native also pitched the Rebels to an NCAA Super Regional birth as a junior and back-to-back Regional appearances as a senior.

No. 3’s exuberant personality as a leader in the circle is not soon to be forgotten by those who watched her, and her legendary status is forever etched alongside Ole Miss greats. Lee completed her first season as the pitching coach at Samford University in 2020 and will head into the fall with a staff she believes can be a national force.

Kaitlin took some time with me to catch up on her incredible career and what she’s up to these days in Alabama. My questions are in bold.

How did you get into softball? When did you know you could play for a long time?

I started playing at the age of six with my dad. He thinks I’m the greatest thing and is my biggest supporter so I always felt like nobody could stop me. When I was 11, 12, 13, I wanted to play for LSU, as funny as it is now. But then reality sets in a little bit and it’s sort of ‘alright, small town kid... probably a small town school’.

I started to really settle in during my last few years high school and went to JUCO. It didn’t click for me that I could keep going until Ole Miss asked me to come on a visit. I didn’t have any expectations of an SEC school, it kind of found me.

As the MACJC Pitcher of the Year, you could have gone anywhere, right?

MGCC Athletics

Actually, people are starting to recruit JUCO players a lot more lately, but that wasn’t really the case then. No more than three or four girls I played with in JUCO went off to a four-year. Now that I’m a coach, I want a JUCO ball kid. They’re gritty, they’ve been through the bottom of the barrel and they’ve worked their tail off to get to where they are.

How did Ole Miss end up on your radar?

So we (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) went to Oxford to play Ole Miss in October of my sophomore year and I was already committed to play for Southeastern Louisiana, about to sign my papers. I only pitched two innings that game, and it was never spoken to me, but my head coach at the time had a thought in his head about getting me exposure.

It all happened really fast after that.

You get to Oxford and had an unbelievable first year that took the nation by storm. Some people might most remember your grunt when you pitch. Is there a backstory to it?

Kaitlin Lee

We got to the bottom of the Kaitlin Lee OOH-AH . Find out what makes the Senior pitcher tick tonight! #TheSeason Premieres Tonight @ 6pm

Posted by Ole Miss Softball on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

I started pitching at seven and my dad would say ‘you’re not giving effort if you’re not grunting.’ It makes sense in some ways because you’re tightening the core, but I have no idea why it sounds the way it does.

They would poke fun at me in JUCO and say I had a different grunt for every pitch, which makes sense because my body does something different.

You shattered the record for innings pitched at Ole Miss. The motion in softball is very different from an overhand throw, but your arm has to be tired right?

Oh, it hurts all the time. It still hurts and I’ve been retired for two years.

So you just throw through it?

Yeah, it’s something that I suck up.

If people didn’t know your name before your SEC tournament run, they did after that week. Was that your favorite moment at Ole Miss? If not, what was?

The SEC Tournament is so blurry to me because I had no expectations. I was warming up before the very first game against Mississippi State and this camera was right up close to me. I was thinking ‘what in the world is going on? It’s a hundred degrees out, I’m sweating like no other and y’all are all in my face,’ it was so unreal. And then we won the whole thing.

I would say that’s probably the highlight of my career, but the 18.2 inning game as a senior against LSU is right up there with the SEC Tournament experience for sure.

18.2 innings is insane. What does that conversation look like with coach Mike Smith, do you have to tell him ‘don’t take me out’ or is it an unspoken understanding?

Well, *laughs* I’m hard-headed as all get-out and I probably would have stormed out of the stadium if they had taken me out. It got to the point to where win or lose, ride or die, this is my game now. When you get into the 14 and 15 inning category, it’s uncharted territory. I was asked multiple times if I was good, and obviously I couldn’t feel my body, but I was going back out there. I was running on pure adrenaline.

What about the SEC Tournament, where you threw every pitch. What were the conversations like at night before you went out and pitched again the next day?

I can vividly remember having the conversations with him. Coach Smith was always the last one up somewhere so I’d catch him in the corner and tell him I could pitch the next day. He’d laugh and say ‘okay Kait, let me be the coach.’ I’d still remind him again that physically, I could pitch. Then after the first few games, it was eye contact. ‘You good?’ ‘I’m good.’

Where does that high-energy come from? Why was it so important for you to play loud?

I’m a very passionate person in everything I do. When I love something, I really love it or I really hate it. Like, I got one dog, and now I have four dogs. There’s not really much grey area for me, I’m either way too much or way too little and I think it starts from there.

At some point, I became reliable for that energy. If I wasn’t showing emotion, then there was something wrong with me.

I remember the 2017 Regional against North Carolina. I had thrown eight straight games, and I was wooped. It was obvious because we were hitting, I was sitting in the dugout— I hardly ever sat. Coach Taryne Mowatt is a badass. She threw every pitch of the College World Series and won it at Arizona. So when she came up to me and said ‘I know you’re exhausted, been there, done that, but you have 20-something girls relying on you so you have to fake it until you make it,’ I grabbed a towel and got to the front of the dugout.

After going out to UCLA and falling just short in the Super Regional as a junior, what did you take with you going into your senior season?

Well, you have programs like UCLA that make the College World Series seven out of 10 times, and that’s not necessarily the case with Ole Miss. There’s a lot of expectation and people relying on you. I have all the confidence in the world, and most of the time I’m too confident, but it got really hard to live up to my expectations alone, let alone everybody else’s. We got a new pitching coach that year, and Coach Ashley (Chastain) is really great, but adjusting from so much success to a lot of things changing and having to build of that success— it was really hard.

You still had an unbelievable year in 2018 and became the second Rebel ever drafted into the National Pro Fastpitch League... you didn’t end up heading down to Australia to play for the Spirit. Do you ever think about playing again, or are the cleats hung up for good?

I had to give (the Spirit) an answer the very last day of the Ole Miss season, and would have had to go the very next week. It was a tough decision, but I was exhausted and it was time.

I’ve been thinking about getting back to playing a lot more lately, which I don’t even know how to visit that idea... but I would consider it. I have athletes of my own now as a coach and I think it would be really cool to live it with them. Instead of saying ‘I did this then,’ I could say, ‘I’m doing this now.’ And I’ve been missing the game a lot lately.

What are your responsibilities in the pitching coach role and how do you approach the game differently?

I moved to Alabama at the end of July and we got started mid-August with meetings and such. It’s going to sound crazy, but I am probably more passionate about coaching then I am about playing. That was another reason I chose to forgo playing professionally, I was really excited to start my coaching career.

Samford Athletics

Going into the fall, I have a big thing with trust. I can’t expect a 21-year-old to listen to a 24-year-old without trust. They’ve had three pitching coaches in the last three years, so for my senior, I’m her fourth pitching coach. It was super important to me for them to get to know me and start to build a foundation there.

In the fall we had a day of mental training, and then the rest of the hours we had available I would do some individuals, some groups. Actually, I had my ankle broken while catching, but it’s either I catch them or they throw into a net. That’s the life of mid-major softball!

How is your staff?

We have a lot of talent. The hardest part is trying to get them to understand that on any given day, anybody can beat anybody. I believe that my six pitchers could go head-to-head with any team in the country, they’re really that good.

Kaitlin Lee

I take 2020 as a freebee. I know what it takes and I can prepare them a lot better for 2021, now that I’ve experienced a season. My senior pitcher is coming back, and I don’t have any pitchers coming in next year, so for me, my job is going to be exactly the same.

What song used to get you pumped up before a game?

I was someone who needed something to chill me out because of my infamous belly bugs, so I would listen to Malibu by Miley Cyrus.

What are your top-three favorite TV Shows and Movies?

Top one is Step Brothers, without a doubt.

All American would be two, I just watched that. And last but not least, Jane The Virgin.

You can only eat one thing for the rest of your life. What’s your meal of choice?

Spaghetti with red sauce. Actually...!! It’s crawfish. I’ve been having it three or four times a week right now. Not great for the bank account, but it’s worth it.

If you’re eating a hot dog, what condiments do you put on it?

Just ketchup... OR CHILI AND CHEESE! ooh that’s hard... am I at home or at a ballpark?

I’ve never had anyone rebut me before. Let’s hear both!

At home, chili and cheese. At a ballpark, just ketchup.

You’ve answered this before... is a hot dog a sandwich?

A sandwich is two pieces of bread. The hot dog bun is one piece of bread, it is still connected. A hot dog is not a sandwich.