Powerful Kennedy Surges Into HR Chase

May 25, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ANN ARBOR – Julia Kennedy isn’t worried about whether or not she finishes as the all-time home run leader in Michigan prep softball history. While it’s been a lot of fun chasing the top rung on the ladder, Kennedy has tried not to focus on hitting the long ball.

There’s no better example of that reality when, in a game earlier this season, Kennedy, a senior first baseman for Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard, took a look at the defense and noticed the first baseman and third basemen playing almost on the outfield grass – figuring she was going to pound the ball. She laid down a bunt instead.

“I try and be a leader,” Kennedy said. “The defense was playing me so far back. I just went up there thinking I needed to advance the runner. I wanted to show everybody that I could put the bunt down. I think people were shocked, even my coach.”

The runner did move up a base, but Kennedy found herself in a bit of hot water with her coach, Nicole Lenhoff.

“We were playing Cabrini, and we were down a run,” Lenhoff said. “I had been telling the girls that if you have the opportunity and they are playing deep, you have to lay the bunt down once in a while to keep them off guard.

“When she did it, I think I yelled at her. We had a talk later about the situation and her being a power hitter, and I told her not to do that in that situation again. But, that’s who she is. She is all about the team.”

Kennedy, 18, has already committed to playing college softball at Miami of Ohio. Heading into this weekend, she has 50 career home runs, putting her in a tight chase with Muskegon Mona Shores’ Taylor Dew, who reached 50 on May 16. Both girls have passed the co-record holders in Michigan career prep softball home runs heading into this season – Erika Underwood of Addison (2012-15) and Taylor Johnson from Belding (2007-10), who both hit 49. Underwood is currently playing for Central Michigan and is likely to play against Kennedy next season in Mid-American Conference play.

Kennedy said she’s always been a power hitter.

“Even when I was young, I could hit the ball pretty far,” she said.

It was when she started working with hitting coach Amanda Chidester, a former Cabrini star and college All-American, that she saw her power turn line drives and fly balls into fence-clearing home runs.

“It was insane how much better I became at hitting,” she said. “I made some adjustments in my swing and with my legs. I had no idea what I was doing. I became much more consistent in hitting. It took some time to put it all together.”

Kennedy hit seven home runs as a freshman, slugged 18 as a sophomore and had eight as a junior. She has 17 so far this season.

As a junior Kennedy played two sports in the spring, juggling soccer and softball. She’s focused on softball this year and that has made her a better player on the diamond, her coach said.

“She doesn’t like me saying so, but I think it has made her better,” Lenhoff said. “She’s more focused. There were times where she would be heading to a soccer game or coming from practice right to softball. She was just a little distracted. She’s always had the ability.”

Kennedy bats second in the Fighting Irish lineup, a move that Lenhoff made last year in an effort to get the slugger more at-bats and to help prevent the opposition from just pitching around her. With the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters coming up after her, it makes it more difficult for a team to intentionally walk Kennedy, Lenhoff said.

Kennedy is fine with taking a walk if it helps the team. But she also has more than 40 RBI and hits for a high average.

“I try not to think about the home runs or hitting a home run,” she said. “When I think about it, that’s when it seems I don’t hit as well. When I’m up to bat, I’m just thinking about advancing the runner or getting on base or just making contact.”

Julia is the daughter of David and Julianne Kennedy. Her father was a softball umpire when she was younger, and one of her brothers played baseball. She picked up his sport, mainly playing baseball at first.

“I didn’t play softball until I was like 10,” she said. “I learned to play by playing baseball.”

When she does make contact, and she knows the ball will be sailing over the outfield fence, Kennedy admits she gets a special feeling in her stomach.

“Oh, it is such an adrenaline rush,” she said. “The feeling when you hit that sweet spot with the bat is unbelievable. I just love it.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) All eyes are on a drive by Gabriel Richard’s Julia Kennedy this season. (Middle) Kennedy puts a charge into another swing this spring. (Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard softball program.)

Bedford Sophomore Powers Up with 23 Homers, Just Getting Started

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

June 7, 2023

TEMPERANCE – Here’s a warning for softball teams facing Temperance Bedford the next couple of seasons: Intentionally walking Aubrey Hensley only gives her more confidence.

Southeast & BorderThe Kicking Mules sophomore just finished her season with 23 home runs in 39 games, shattering school and Monroe County records. She remembers the home runs from the season that ended in the Division 1 District Finals, but she also remembers the walks.

“Our first game of the season, my first at-bat, I didn’t even get a swing in,” Hensley said. “As a hitter, it plays with your mind, but it also gives you confidence. If I go to the plate and they aren’t even willing to pitch to me, that gives me even more confidence. The next time up, I’m really going to look for my pitch.”

Hensley saw plenty of pitches she liked this season. She hit just a tick below .500 (61 hits in 124 at-bats), with seven doubles, five triples and nearly two dozen homers. They were pretty much split between the newly renovated Kicking Mules field in Temperance and road games.

Her most memorable home run was at Ypsilanti Lincoln.

“I usually have pretty good games at their field,” she said. “This year I hit a home run and hit the building which is behind the fence. That was a good one. I liked that watching and hearing that one hit.”

Hensley grew up in Toledo and moved across the state line in fifth grade. By then she was already involved in northwest Ohio travel softball programs.

“Softball kind of came naturally for me,” she said. “I loved to go to the field with my mom (Amanda) or my brother or just hit off the tee. I just have a mentality that I’m a good hitter and I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

Prior to her freshman season, Mules coach Marla Gooding, a first-grade teacher at Bedford, sent Hensley into the weight room. 

“I was not expecting to hit home runs going into my freshman season,” Hensley said. “I didn’t really know what to expect.

“When I was little, I wasn’t always a power hitter. I would hit a few doubles or triples and get into the ball some. I worked and put in time in the weight room, especially going into the freshman year. I think that really contributed to my home run hitting. Coach had us in the weight room during the season a little bit. It helps to develop your body to be a power hitter.”

Hensley steps to the plate against Monroe. With the power in place, Hensley began concentrating on swinging through the ball.

“I don’t expect to hit a home run every time, but I go up to the plate thinking it’s possible,” she said. “I’m swinging to get through the ball and just drive it somewhere. I’m not hitting for contact. If you just go up hitting for contact, you are swinging lighter, and if it doesn’t go far, you start doubting yourself. I just go up and swing to drive the ball.”

Countless hours hitting off the tee and facing batting practice pitchers helped her fine-tune her swing. 

“I don’t like to get down on myself, because then it snowballs onto the field or another at-bat,” she said. “Short memory is one thing we really wanted to work on this year. I think I applied that more. It’s difficult sometimes if you aren’t getting the pitches that you want or aren’t producing. I just try to go up there with some swag and get the job done.”

Gooding called her a dream to coach.

“She’s a power-five softball player,” she said. “And the greatest kid ever. Seriously, a workhorse and team-first mentality.”

On the field, she is the Bedford catcher. She didn’t commit an error all season.

Hensley was a pitcher at a young age but loved the transition to behind the plate.

“When I got behind the plate, I loved it,” she said. “It’s like being a general out there controlling the whole field. I get to see everyone and everything. I put in a lot of work when I was little. I started with the basics and just advanced from there. I’m pretty dedicated to being the best I can behind the plate for my pitcher.”

Hensley will balance her summer of babysitting, playing basketball for the Mules in June and a busy summer travel softball season that will take her around Ohio, Kansas and Tennessee. She helped the Kicking Mules set a school record for wins with 23 and win a District title in basketball last winter.

Hensley isn’t the only Bedford softball player to show power this season. As a team, Bedford hit 51 home runs, including 12 by teammate Payton Pudlowski. That is one of the reasons Hensley isn’t simply intentionally walked time after time.

“We have some solid pieces behind her, and the two girls in front of her got on base all of the time,” Gooding said. “It was hard for other teams to do that.”

With 23 home runs this season, Hensley’s put her name among the top five all-time single seasons in state history. The record is 29 by Kali Heivilin from Three Rivers in 2021.

With 34 career home runs, she is almost in the top 25. 

Hensley isn’t concerned about records right now, except for one thing. She wants to put up a number that, by the time she graduates, is out of this world.

As she tells it, “I want to push the record so far that no one can touch it by the time I’m done with my career at Bedford.”

She might already have.

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Bedford’s Aubrey Hensley prepares to drive a pitch this season. (Middle) Hensley steps to the plate against Monroe. (Photos by Christine Kwiatkowski.)