May 08, 2019When Gabbie Jenkins graduated from high school three years ago, the softball player left her mark at the Floyd Central sports complex like many before her. In her career, she hit for a .446 average with 110 RBIs and 71 stolen bases. During her senior year, she was part of a team that won 25 straight games and a Hoosier Hills Conference championship. She also was named First Team All-State and All-Conference as both a sophomore and junior.
Indiana University softball took notice of Jenkins' skills and recruited her. Since that time, she has been leaving her mark at IU's Andy Mohr Field and other college softball fields across the country.
Jenkins finished her freshman year with a .310 batting average, 43 hits, 19 runs, 11 RBIs, 13 stolen bases and six walks. As a sophomore, she started all 56 games and was a lead-off batter. She had a .369 batting average with 66 hits, including six triples and eight games with three or more hits. Jenkins also scored 36 runs and stole 26 bases. That earned her Third Team National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association All-Midwest Region, Second Team All-Big Ten, Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and Academic All-Big Ten honors.
This year, Jenkins has continued to leave her mark in the IU softball archives, having helped the Hoosiers (35-20 as of Monday) win their first 11 games. The junior has consistently made the highlight reels with her diving catches, timely hits and just all-around excellent play.
"I like the grass stains," Indiana's Gabbie Jenkins said after making this game-ending catch in the top of the fifth against visiting Rutgers.
"I think it's just a testament about here at Indiana, and that's just enjoying the tradition and the culture and building that and building a team culture," Jenkins said following a 9-1 win at home against Rutgers on April 26. "Just anytime we get to play at Andy Mohr Field and growing every year, it's just something special at the way we're challenged to go about it and the way our coaches have set the standard for to just be more than we could have ever imagined."
Making the jump from high school softball to college softball might be a little overwhelming for some players. The fields are bigger. The game is faster. The pitching is harder. Jenkins, however, said her time at Floyd Central got her ready to make the jump.
"I would say it's all kind of relative," she said. "We flow into it nicely because we play so much travel ball, and just the people that prepare you beforehand, I think can have a lot to do with it. I think the biggest jump we make is mental, and however you make the mental jump is how you're going to adjust to the college atmosphere.
"I think (former Floyd Central coach) Scott Castleberry, he's a big reason. Chelsea Jordan, Shawn Penn, Troy Striegel, my dad (Dennie), just the way they challenged us mentally in high school, and then into college growing every year," Jenkins continued.
In the April 26 contest, Rutgers got on the board first, scoring on an error in the first inning. The Hoosiers went scoreless in their first at-bat but tied the game in the bottom of the second as Grayson Radcliffe and Katie Lacefield hit back-to-back doubles.
After keeping Rutgers scoreless in the top of the third, Indiana put four more up on the board. Taylor Lambert started with a lead-off double. Jenkins moved Lambert to third with a sacrifice bunt. Lambert later scored when Maddie Westmoreland singled.
Indiana loaded the bases, and Bella Norton pushed two runners across the plate with a single. The Hoosiers got one more run in the inning and gave themselves some breathing room with a 5-1 lead.
"Honestly, this year is about staying the course," Jenkins said. "We're not focusing on the result. We're focusing on the process, whoever is on base and how they're going to score. That's my job. So, moving Taylor to third, that means she's going to score on Maddie behind me.
"Maybe sometimes that means I hit it or sometimes that means I lay down a bunt, or that means I get a walk. Whatever that looks like is what I'm looking at to produce in. When the big hits come, the big hits come, and I'm always looking to get the job done. That's what we're doing here at IU."
After Rutgers went down in order in the top of the fourth inning, Indiana put four more runs on the board for a 9-1 lead. Jenkins led off with a walk and went to third on a single by Westmoreland. Radcliffe then was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Following a pitching change, Lacefield singled to score Jenkins and Westmoreland. Radcliffe then scored on a bunt single by Norton. Norton later crossed the plate on a single by Lambert for the eight-run advantage.
In the top of the fifth inning with two outs, Rutgers' Katie Wingert hit a short blooper to right field that looked like it was going to drop for a single. Jenkins, however, had other things to say about that as she made a diving catch to end the game, with Indiana getting the 9-1 win.
"I like the grass stains," a smiling Jenkins said. "It's fun to see a ball coming in like that. It's crazy how the world can kind of stop and you're like, 'Oh, this is the one.' You can feel it because we do it so much in practice. It doesn't make it that much different in a game. You just see the ball off the bat and you react because we've been prepared so well. It's fun, not because our team is there, but when everyone is there. It's just fun to do what we do in practice."
Jenkins admitted that college softball was more than what she expected.
"Growing up here I had no idea it would be like this, but this is what you'd hope," the IU junior said. "You hope you'd experience this joy, but you don't know what that may look like. I think God has just been so generous in the way we get to experience joy."
Jenkins praised the coaching staff — head coach Shonda Stanton and assistants Kendall Fearn and Chanda Bell — and the support staff.
"They're pretty incredible in the way they empower us and challenge us and love us so well," she said. "They'll do literally anything to see us succeed. That's not just on the softball field but in life and in anything you can imagine. That's probably one of the most significant parts of college softball that I could have never imagined would have been this great."
Jenkins hits the books as much as she does softballs and was recently recognized for having the highest grade-point average on the team. She plans to teach elementary education after graduating next year.
"We've set this goal that we'd be relevant on the national stage softball-wise, but we would also be relevant on a national stage in academics," Jenkins said. "There's no reason with the support we have here and with the prestige of our school, there's no reason we shouldn't be able to get after it in the classroom just like we do on the softball field. That's what we're after, and I'm just trying to pull my weight. There are also girls who are also pulling their weight. We're working and enjoying it and doing as much as we can."
When asked what she would tell young girls who want to play at this level, Jenkins said the first thing is to enjoy the game.
"For little girls, I would just say it's not the result, the reason we play," she said. "It's the joy and the competition and the process. It is so fun at every stage. I've loved travel ball. I loved high school ball, and now I love college ball. I think embracing the people around you can make that what it is. You make it what it is. I encourage kids to dream big because that's what someone told me and here I am."
Jenkins still has plenty of work to do with the Big Ten tournament at the IU campus starting tomorrow (Thursday). She said she's not really ready to think about her senior year.
"We're looking to stay the course, and that means we're going to focus on the process," Jenkins said. "I'm going to focus on the process. My freshmen teammates are going to focus on the process. Every year is no different than the one before and what our goal is. That's post-season and that's winning at the end of the day, and enjoying what's around us.
"So, my goal for senior year, I'm not there yet, and I don't want to think about it. It's just to continue embracing everything we get to experience here, because this is not reality. This is all like the dream. I'm lucky to experience it, and I think the best way is to honor the Lord in that, to just be present and enjoy all the people and all the things and opportunities we get together."