EDWARDSVILLE — After a devastating eye injury cut short her junior season, Edwardsville catcher Kendall Navin wouldn't have been faulted for walking away from softball.
But, Navin opted to come back for her senior season.
"I decided I wanted to come back because I made a commitment to my team when I first started playing -- and not just to the team, but my teammates -- and that was really important to me,'' Navin said. "Finishing out my commitment and finishing out my career on a high note instead of a low note.''
Navin has been selected as the Belleville News-Democrat's Big School (Class 3A-4A) Player of the Year in softball after leading the Southwestern Conference in batting average with a .544 mark.
"I'm proud of her efforts throughout the year, but even more so of coming back after the injury that she did have,'' Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said of Navin, who also led the SWC in doubles with 22 and slugging percentage at .922.
"Kendall is a worker. She is a smart kid who knows what she wants. She did not want to go out with her last high school games being with that injury. She got herself prepared and she came back and had a tremendous year.''
Navin was struck in the eye by a ball during warmups at the Triad Invitational in early May 2011.
"We were taking our infield and the throw was supposed to go to somebody else,'' Navin said. "I was talking to Coach Blade and they threw it home to me. It was a freak accident.''
Navin said she suffered an orbital blowout fracture and a fractured nose. She underwent surgery.
"When it first happened, I didn't know if I was ever going to play again,'' Navin said. "I had to have surgery and I was seeing double. There is just all these things that I had to take into account. I am always going to put my health ahead of playing sports. After surgery and after working out, practicing a little bit, I felt comfortable coming back.''
Navin was back playing summer ball two months after her injury.
Navin edged out O'Fallon shortstop Macy Oswald for Player of the Year in voting by metro-east coaches.
The Wisconsin-bound Oswald put up her own stellar statistics with a .434 batting average and a Southwestern Conference-leading nine home runs and 50 RBIs.
While Oswald entered the season as one the top returners in the metro-east, Navin was more of an afterthought after hitting only .308 and missing the final 12 games of the 2011 season.
"I set my own expectations, and those were different than everyone else,'' Navin said. "The first day of the year, Coach Blade made us right down our goals and expectations for the year, and one of my goals was that I wanted to hit .500. She kind of joked with me. She's kind of like , 'I don't know.' When I hit .500 that felt good because you've set a goal and you work really hard to try to reach it.''
Blade admitted being a little skeptical about Navin's ambition of hitting .500.
"I thought, 'That's pretty lofty,''' Blade said. "Reaching that goal was great, but what was so impressive to me was the timing of her hits. She had huge hits in big games throughout the season. The one that really stands out is against Alton Marquette. She went 3-for-3 against (Alexis) Silkwood, and that doesn't happen very often at all.''
Navin also had a two-run homer in the Tigers' 9-8, nine-inning winning over O'Fallon in the semifinals of the Edwardsville Class 4A Sectional.
"That's what she did all year,'' Blade said of Navin's clutch hitting. She came through in some key situations, if not to get to the RBI, then to get the hit to get something going.''
Navin had 47 RBIs on the season, with many of those coming in opportune times for the Tigers, who posted a 33-3 record and advanced to the sectional championship game before losing to Moline 5-3.
"You might as well go up there and give it your best shot,'' Navin said. "I just handle pressure well, I guess.''
Navin, 18, the daughter of John and Lynn Navin, of Edwardsville, will attend DePaul University on an academic scholarship.
Navin is majoring a business. She's thinking about pursuing a career in corporate law.
Navin won't be playing softball in college, a decision that she said wasn't easy to make.
"I knew I couldn't play softball forever,'' Navin said. "I'm not good enough to play professionally. I'm not the best player you have ever seen. I'm going to go out there every time and give it my best shot. When it came down it, I wanted to find somewhere that would start me off on the right path for life.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.