From her vantage point in center field, Kathy Shelton is constantly encouraging her Baylor teammates in a voice so loud that it projects above the din of the crowd.

In quieter moments, she’ll find a struggling teammate and give her a few words of advice.

When the crowd isn’t watching, she’s hard at work trying to improve her game whether it’s smoothing out her swing or finding some nuance that will make her a better outfielder.

Leadership takes a lot of responsibility, and Shelton knows that. Her teammates look to her to set the tone for every game, every practice. It’s a 24/7 job, but she’s up to the task.

“I don’t believe you can make leaders, they have to be a leader by nature,” Baylor coach Glenn Moore said. “Not to diminish the great leaders we’ve had, but she surpasses them all. She practices hard, plays hard, and if she’s less than 100 percent it’s because of an injury. She has the respect of those around her and that gives her the greatest leadership ability.”

Shelton will make her final regular season appearance at Getterman Stadium when the

No. 15 Lady Bears begin a three-game series against Texas Tech at 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN. It will be Baylor’s last Big 12 series before facing Texas in Austin May 12 in the final regular season game.

Shelton hasn’t thought a lot about what her emotions will be on Saturday’s Senior Day when she will be honored with pitcher Courtney Repka and infielder Kelsi Kettler. But she’s going to try to relish every moment.

“I’m not sure if it will even hit me on Senior Day,” Shelton said. “But I want to soak it up and enjoy it with my teammates this weekend. It has been four years but it seems to have gone by in a flash. I really didn’t know what to expect when I came here but it has definitely been the right place for me.”

Moore knew he was getting a player with great potential when Shelton signed with Baylor out of McKinney North High School. She has lived up to expectations by hitting .338 with 59 RBIs and a school-record 114 stolen bases in four seasons.

Seeing Shelton play for her father’s Amateur Softball Association team, Moore thought she could become an exceptional leader for the Lady Bears. He has seen how she has embraced every practice and how hard she has worked to improve every time she faces an opposing pitcher. He has seen how much she cares about her teammates and tries to set an example they can all emulate.

Those intangibles are worth at least as much as the numbers she has put on the stat sheet.

“We hoped the ownership and pride she took from playing for her dad would be the same for us, and clearly it has been,” Moore said. “She’s the epitome of a coach’s player because she works extremely hard and respects every opportunity she has been given. She has a body language that never says, ‘I quit.’ If a barrier is there, she’s not going to give up. She’s going to work until she gets through it.”

Baylor pitcher Whitney Canion was thrilled when Shelton signed with Baylor because she knew the kind of impact she could make after they played together on the Texas Glory ASA teams for two summers.

During their four years together at Baylor, Canion has seen how Shelton is always there to cheer on her teammates or provide constructive criticism that might help them the next time they come to the plate.

“We look for her in every situation for every word that needs to be said,” Canion said. “She will tell them something to work on whether it’s positive or negative. She doesn’t change, and that’s what a leader does. She’s probably the most vocal player on the team in a good way.”

Younger players like leftfielder Linsey Hays have probably benefited the most from Shelton’s guidance. Shelton has helped the redshirt freshman with batting tips, and she has drawn from the senior’s experience in the outfield.

“I’m like her little sister because she’s kind of taken me under her wing,” Hays said. “If I have a good game or bad game, she’s the first one talking to me. She’ll be completely honest by saying something like, ‘You look like you’re trying too hard.’ In the outfield, we’re always making eye contact. As a centerfielder, you expect a strong leader out there, and Kaitlyn (Thumann) and I go to her about anything.”

It’s no accident that Shelton bats leadoff and plays center field. A left-handed slap hitter, Shelton is Baylor’s second-leading hitter with a .371 average while her 34 stolen bases in 39 attempts rank first in the Big 12.

“My job is to get something going for us,” Shelton said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but to lead off the game with a hit electrifies the offense. I do better when I’m aggressive. I like to get a great pitch early in the count and try to lead this offense in the first spot.”

Nearing speed record

When Shelton reaches first, she’s usually off to the races. She has stolen 30 or more bases each of the last three seasons, and needs just three more to set the school single-season record with 37. Her school-record 114 career stolen bases are impressive in a program that has been filled with speed burners like Harmony Schwethelm, Kim Wilmoth and twins Tiffany and Nicole Wesley.

“I’m blessed to have a coach who loves to run and I’m blessed to have speed,” Shelton said.

Shelton’s speed and instincts in center field give the Baylor pitchers a great deal of comfort because they know she can track down any ball hit in her area.

“She has great knowledge of the game, she reads hitters and anticipates well,” Moore said. “She takes hits away with her ability to read. She’s smart and knows our pitchers’ capabilities and where the ball might go because of how the pitch is thrown.”

Shelton will graduate this month with a degree in speech pathology and will begin graduate school at Baylor in the same area of study in June. But before her softball career ends, she wants to help the Lady Bears return to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

Shelton started for the Baylor team that reached the national semifinals in 2011, and she wants her younger teammates to experience college softball’s mecca.

“They know this is what you dream about when you’re 8,” Shelton said. “I still talk about it all the time. It was special in my life and I will tell my kids about it. Having been there two years ago makes me want it even more. Everyone wants to have a taste of that success.”

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