Taylor Nearad continues hot hitting for second-ranked Kirkwood

National Player of the Year helps Kirkwood sweep NIACC

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Kirkwood’s Taylor Nearad still is terrorizing opposing pitchers.

This time, however, it was expected after leading NJCAA Division II in four offensive categories. Pitchers haven’t found a way to prevent her gaudy statistics.

Nearad tallied four hits, including two doubles and a two-run home run, in the second-ranked Eagles’ 11-0, 9-0 doubleheader sweep over NIACC on Wednesday at Kirkwood. Nearad finished 4-for-5 with a walk, four runs and three RBIs.

She started the season compelled to match her production of last year. Nearad led the country with 145 hits, 129 RBIs, 30 home runs and 114 runs, hitting a whopping .602. Kirkwood Coach Joe Yegge provided some perspective.

“At first, I was trying to push myself higher, too,” said Nearad, who is hitting .521 with 13 home runs and a 1.077 slugging percentage. “Yegge calmed me down and told me if I had half the batting average I did last year I’d still be a good player, so I’m kind of going with that, right now.”

Yegge said Nearad has done well, handling the strain of being the reigning NJCAA Player of the Year and an Iowa State signee.

“All those expectations are huge and that can get to somebody,” Yegge said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. She’s had to grow up and handle the pressure and expectations of being who she was last year.”

Nearad hasn’t skipped a beat this season. In 39 games, Nearad has 74 hits and scored 73 runs. She has tallied 46 extra-base hits, including 26 doubles and seven triples, and 56 RBIs. Pitchers have tried to limit the damage she can do by pitching her more carefully, leading to fewer opportunities.

“I’ve been getting a few more walks than I normally do,” said Nearad, who has 17 free passes. “I think I’m being more disciplined at the plate this year. I’ve seen more pitches instead of attacking the first pitch like I did a lot last year.”

In the opener, she had a double and a walk. In the second game, Nearad sprayed an opposite-field double to left center her first at-bat, blasted a long ball well over the wall in center and then smacked an RBI single past the shortstop.

“Her timing is great,” Yegge said. “She has unbelievable hand-eye coordination.”

Yegge said Nearad has always had the mechanics and has worked hard in the weight room since reaching Kirkwood from nearby Solon. The development of her mental approach has helped her make strides.

“She stays even keel,” Yegge said. “She tries not to let things bother her. That’s her best attribute.”

The Eagles (37-2) thumped NIACC, scoring seven runs in the fourth inning. Audra Bridenstine and Maddie Hansen each had two-run singles for Kirkwood in that frame. Bridenstine was 3-for-3 with a three-run home run in the opener. Teammate DoniRae Mayhew was also 3-for-3 in the first game.

In the nightcap, Morgan Frost had two hits, including a two-run home run. Angie McBeain threw a shutout for her 14th victory.

“We have a lot of things to get better at,” Yegge said. “Every team wants to give their best to us. We haven’t figured out we have to come every day and give our best because of that, so that’s one of the things.

“We’re working on that down the stretch. Hopefully, we can get that clicking here the next couple weeks.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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