Just watching Elle Smith on her daily workout videos can make the viewer break out in a sweat, as the Blue Springs South sophomore is working hard to get back to the form that helped her play a key role in the Jaguars’ 2018 softball state championship.
She was the most talented “cheerleader” in the state when the Jags won their second consecutive Class 4 state championship in 2019 as a shoulder injury sidelined the left fielder for the entire season.
“I hated to miss last season,” Smith said, “but I was so proud of my girls and I was there every day, for games and practice. I didn’t want to miss a thing.”
She recently had shoulder surgery for the torn labrum and hopes to be 100 percent when the Jaguars take the field this fall – barring any coronavirus setback – seeking a three-peat.
However, unless you are a true South softball fan, you might not be aware of the role the then freshman left fielder played in that dramatic first state championship.
In the Class 4 District 13 championship game against Suburban Big Six Conference opponent Lee’s Summit North, the score was tied at 3-3 and the Broncos had runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
North’s designated player Madison Burton, a left-handed batter, sliced a blooper to left field as the South faithful gasped.
There seemed to be little chance Smith was going to catch that ball. But she dove and caught it, saving the Jaguars to win it later.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Smith said. “I was thinking the ball was going to be hit to me – I really was – so I was so ready to make that catch.
“But it was slicing away from me. I knew I could catch up with it, but I was afraid it might get knocked out of my glove when I hit the ground.”
So was coach Kristi Williams, who held her breath along with the rest of the Jaguars.
“We knew she was going to get to it,” Williams said then. “It was just a matter of if she was going to hold onto it.”
She got to the ball, and she did hold onto it.
“I wanted to run out to left field and give her a hug after that catch,” pitcher Easton Seib, now with Valparaiso University, said at the time. “We don’t go to state without that catch. It was the play of the year! We all loved Elle and we really loved her after that catch.”
Smith, who stands 4-foot-11, stretched out her diminutive frame for all it was worth to make a catch that placed her in the annals of South softball lore.
“I was like, ‘Lord, please let me catch it,’” Smith said. “When I landed I was like, ‘Whew!’ It was an amazing experience.”
Looking back on the defensive gem of that season, Williams adds, “One thing I always say about Elle is that she does everything 100,000 miles per hour.
“That is a play she makes every day in practice. She’s going to go for that catch. That’s what she does. And when we needed it the most, she delivered.”
Sophomore Tori Bradley then drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning and Seib delivered a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth to seal the 8-4 extra-inning win.
“I think about that game all the time,” Smith said, “especially since I couldn’t play last season.
“That’s why I’m working so hard. I am so lucky, because my dad owns a gym, and while it’s closed I’m still able to go in early each morning and work out. I even get a workout cleaning up when I’m done.
“I want to come back better than I ever have been. I want to help our team win that third straight championship. We’ve won two in a row and winning three in a row would be incredible – and I want to be healthy to help make that happen.”