By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Sometimes you just know.
Mogadore softball head coach Jeff Fankhauser certainly did.
From the moment Katie Gardner joined his Wildcats program as a freshman, Fankhauser recognized that there was something special about Gardner.
Her work ethic, enthusiasm and attitude quickly set her apart.
As a freshman pitcher, Gardner joined a roster that already featured a No. 1 pitcher in Madison King.
They didn’t need a pitcher.
What they needed was a left fielder and Fankhauser approached her about the opportunity.
“I remember us having a conversation about it, and I just told her that we needed an outfielder,” the coach said.
Gardner’s response was simple, yet telling.
“I can do it,” Fankhauser recalled Gardner telling him.
“Right from the start, Katie has always been a player that puts the team before herself,” Fankhauser said.
Gardner played left field throughout that 2021 season, building her confidence at the varsity level and quickly proving that not much can faze her.
Her progression as a player has done nothing but skyrocket ever since.
Gardner stepped into the circle as the Cats’ ace last year as a sophomore and won 10 games. She struck out 115 in 90 innings and posted a 1.56 earned-run average.
The ascension has continued this season with 12 wins, two no-hitters and seven shutouts, with her individual success running parallel to the team’s as the Cats are 14-2 overall.
The right-hander incorporates five different pitches, with a fastball, changeup, rise ball, drop ball and screwball.
If that was not enough to keep opposing batters off-balance, Gardner is aided by one of the best catchers in the area in Olivia Kidd.
The due play the game step by step with each other.
Kidd has earned Fankhauser’s trust to call every pitch and Gardner says she stays with Kidd’s pitch selection “90 percent of the time or more.”
“We have a great relationship, and we are always on the same page,” Gardner said.
Much of the same can be said about the entire Wildcats roster, which includes a group that were close friends to begin with, but strengthened their bond during an early season trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for a Spring Break tournament.
In addition to healthy competition on the diamond, Gardner and her teammates spent quality time together between games and into the evenings.
“I love being around my teammates,” Gardner said. “They make the game so much fun. Whether it is a practice or a game, it doesn’t matter, softball is fun all the time with this group. Our trip to Tennessee was amazing. We got to spend so much time together in the hotel at night, playing games and talking. We were like a group of sisters.”
And family has always been a big part of softball for Gardner, .
It started when she was very young, watching her cousin Alexsa Hurd, who went on to star at Field High School and recently set the single-season RBI record at Slippery Rock University.
“She was always my role model,” Gardner said of her cousin. “I remember going to watch her play at the Spano Dome with my grandma. I still look up to her now.”
Just like some other young player’s eyes have found Gardner to look up to.