Bill Rozak

Kenzie Gast wears a softball necklace about the size of a quarter with her No. 13 printed between the stitches.

The Summerville High senior lights up when talking about what happens on the diamond in between the lines. She’s played since she was 5. She’s been on a valley-based traveling team since she was in elementary school. She’s been all over playing in showcase tournaments in Missouri, Las Vegas, Florida, Colorado and Portland. Her senior project was coaching softball players 14-and-under through Tuolumne County Recreation Department.

She loves softball.

The years traveling and dedication has lead to a college scholarship.

Gast celebrated Tuesday her decision to play for the University of Great Falls Argonauts, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) school in Montana, during a ceremony with family and friends in Summerville gymnasium foyer.

The strong-armed catcher officially signed her National Letter of Intent in early January and will receive a $12,000 renewable scholarship.

“She worked hard in the offseason on her own, playing in tournaments,” said Summerville Bears assistant coach Craig Anderson. “This is not good luck, she worked really hard.”

When Gast leaves Great Falls, the kinesiology major wants to be an athletic trainer. She wants to help athletes recover and cope with their injuries, aches and pains.

And she knows all about suffering through an injury.

Gast lost most of her junior season with a broken left arm. She was struck by a bat in practice while catching and the contact broke her ulna bone which enables the wrist to rotate.

After a handful of games, she was done for the year. And also missed some of her travel ball season.

“I wasn’t real upset until I got to the hospital and they told me it was broke,” Gast said. “Then I balled my eyes out. It sucked. I couldn’t imagine not playing the entire year.”

She was in a cast for two months, and it was pink to honor Bears assistant coach Lani Conklin and her battle with breast cancer.

Gast realized at the beginning of her senior year that she “needed to get her stuff together” if she wanted to go to college.

The once challenged student recorded a 3.0 grade point average her senior year.

“I focused and I did it,” Gast said.

Getting her GPA up was one thing, but she also needed to find a college. During the fall while playing with her travel team, the So-Cal Badgers out of Manteca, she played in several showcase events and “emailed as many coaches” as she could to invite them to watch her play. She also had a performance video coaches could access.

Several schools showed interest but the process seemed to take care of itself. While some schools went by the wayside, Great Falls head coach Joey Egan offered her a scholarship after a campus visit and a workout with the Argos senior catcher.

Before going to Montana, Gast was sold on Valley City State University in North Dakota. But after that visit, which she loved, she made the 10-hour drive to Great Falls.

While holding offers from each school, the Valley City coach went a different direction, signed another catcher and rescinded Gast’s offer. Which made her decision pretty easy.

She faxed and mailed in her letter of intent to Great Falls.

“It was a crazy adventure,” said Gast, whose favorite part of the game is throwing somebody out on the basepaths. “It was nuts picking what school. It was so hard.”

After picking her school, the traveling team had a celebration for her. Her mom, Wendy Gast, made a collage of pictures and Kenzie made a small speech.

“That was really great, a lot of fun,” Kenzie said.

Her senior season at Summerville was challenging.

The Bears didn’t win a lot of games. Gast was the only senior, aside from a foreign exchange student who had never played before, and found it hard to relate with her younger teammates. And late in the season, she was playing against rival Sonora after her great uncle went missing in the snowy wilderness. The Bears lost that game.

“That game was tough,” Gast said. “It was crazy knowing he was out there … I had no idea where he was, he was just out there. He watched me grow up.”

He was found dead a few days later.

Gast wanted to go away for school, but says she didn’t at the same time. Her heart told her to go, and she’s happy to be going to a place similar to Tuolumne County.

Gast likely won’t see immediate playing time in Great Falls with a pair of older catchers on the roster, which suits her just fine.

“It feels good to know I’m going somewhere similar to my hometown,” Gast said. “But as a freshman, there will be older girls so I won’t be playing as much,” Gast said. “I’m just hoping to have a good experience and get better.”