Bates College senior Kyla Decato has become an outstanding infielder and hitter since she joined the team her sophomore year.
LEWISTON – Gwen Lexow was well aware of the untapped softball potential on the Bates College campus.
The only hitch was getting it to the field.
Kyla Decato had been a three-sport athlete at Oxford Hills but concentrated solely on basketball as a freshman at Bates, putting softball and soccer behind her.
“I had learned through the grapevine, Hey coach, there’s another player on the basketball team that can help us,'” recalls Lexow, the Bates softball coach. “I was like, Great, encourage her to come out.’ She doesn’t come out her first year, and I’m thinking she’s not going to play. By her sophomore year, we got some people to convince her to come out.
“I’d watch her play basketball. So I knew she was a great athlete. I knew she could contribute to the team. It was just a matter of getting her on the team.”
Decato has been a staple since reviving her softball career as a sophomore. She’s brought a solid glove at first and a potent bat to the heart of the Bobcats’ order.
“Offensively, for the past two years, she’s been one of our biggest clutch hitters,” said Lexow. “She’s certainly the person we count on consistently to perform, and it’s great that it comes from the left side.”
Decato’s change of heart came after skipping softball to focus on basketball.
“Basketball started in the fall and then it just stopped,” said Decato. “Then I was like, What’s next? Nothing’s on deck.’ I was like, This is really boring.'”
When she attended some softball games that spring, she developed the urge to dig out her glove.
“I went to soccer games, and I played soccer in high school and I didn’t feel anything,” said Decato. “I went to softball games, and I really, really missed it. So I was like, Maybe I’ll give it a shot.'”
It wasn’t easy to step into the sport after a year away. Though the Oxford Hills program prepared her well, she had to shake off the rust.
“I thought it was extremely difficult,” said Decato, who had little break between sports seasons. “Softball, ending in high school, and then not even picking up my glove in almost two years, was definitely a big step. It took me a little while to get used to it.”
Lexow wasn’t sure where Decato might play initially, but she soon established herself at first base and in the third spot in the batting order.
Last year, she led the team in RBIs with 13 and was second in hits (24) and third in batting average (.333) and on-base percentage (.377). This season, after just two days off between seasons, she’s batted .323 and is third in hits (10) and total bases (16) and has four RBIs from the fifth slot. Her on-base percentage is .382, and she’s four-for-four in stolen bases.
She’s also contributed significantly as a leader. She and fellow senior Lissa Moses are the captains on a team with nine underclassmen.
“I think toward the end of last year and this year, she started seeing herself in that light,” said Lexow. “Part of that may be being named captain. So there’s the formal title as well, but she’s much more apt to speak up and much more apt to ask the question that everyone else is thinking but is afraid to ask. All of those things that scream Hey, I’m the leader.’ I’ve definitely seen that from her. It’s been fun to watch and see her evolve.”
Decato says being named captain forced the issue, but experiences in both sports showed every player can find a role and develop their own brand of leadership.
“There’s always a role to play no matter what grade you are,” said Decato. “I didn’t get that before and now I do. I realized you don’t need that title to be a leader. I think that helped a little, but when I came into softball, I realized that you can do whatever you need to do to just be a leader, whether you’re a captain or not or a junior or senior.”
Part of that is Decato’s personality, says Lexow. Decato is a determined and hard working player, but she also brings a light-hearted presence.
“One of the great things about Kyla is how personable she is and how fun she is to be around,” said Lexow. “That’s one of the things she brings to this team that we really needed.”
After going 12-10 last year, the Bobcats are 5-5. Lexow says that Decato, along with Moses, has created an enjoyable and fun environment that keeps the team – and coaches – loose.
“It’s that uniqueness that she brings,” said Lexow. “There aren’t a lot of people that are willing to do that. Willing to make sure that everyone knows we’re having fun here, and that includes me.”