By LARRY VAUGHT
She was only in the eighth grade when she started attracting the attention of Division I softball coaches and after her sophomore year of high school Gabi Deters verbally committed to Kentucky.
“I just knew once I went for my visit it was for me. The community and coaches were all so friendly, I knew it was Kentucky,” said Deters.
She is a catcher from Bowling Green, Missouri, who hit .430 with 11 home runs, knocked in 28 runs, scored 50 runs and stole 13 bases as a senior when her team won its second straight state championship. She finished with a career .452 batting average, 38 homers (fourth all-time in Missouri), 124 runs batted-in, 163 runs scored, 76 walks and 35 stolen bases with just 30 strikeouts in four years.
She was a first-team all-state player three years — as well as Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior — and also an all-conference basketball player.
Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson says she likes to recruit “smart” catchers with intangible leadership qualities. Deters certainly fits that role.
“I am a very organized person. I am not someone who doesn’t want to get my work done,” Deters said. “I am good with tests. I make note cards and go over and over stuff. I am not quite as competitive with my grades as I am on the field or court, but I am somewhat competitive. I like to make good grades.”
Deters started catching in Tee League when parents would pitch and she was one of the only players who could catch the ball.
“Both my parents were catchers. I was the only one who could catch, so they just stuck me back there,” Deters said. “I took lessons. My high school coach used to be a catcher and he helped teach me a few things that really helped. He went to clinics to learn more to help me but it also just kind of came natural to me.”
She became the starting catcher her freshman year and once she proved to her coach that she could call pitches, she loved catching even more.
“When you are catching you can see things that people on the outside do not always see. I like watching batters to see if they look scared, too aggressive or too confident,” Deters said. “But at Kentucky I know that coach (Rachel) Lawson will definitely call the pitches.”
Her high school coach, Dean Streed, won’t speculate on whether Lawson might use her as a true freshman with the upcoming graduation of starting catcher Jenny Schaper.
“I feel that Gabi wants to be ready and wants to make an impact as soon as she can when she gets to Lexington and whenever she gets the opportunity,” Streed said. “But she is not a girl that makes it about her. I know she will be willing to do whatever the team asks of her in order to make the team stronger, whatever that may be.
“I think she understands the game will be tougher, especially competing in the SEC, but she is one who wants to put the work in and try to strengthen every tool she has so she can be a valuable asset to the team.”
She understands competition. She was only 16 when she played for Team USA where she was one of the three youngest players on the team that competed against Japan, Canada and Mexico.
“The rest of the players were getting ready for college or already had a year of college and the coaches were all college coaches,” Deter said. “I was the only person there going to Kentucky but it was really great to play with those college players. I did get overwhelmed at times but not to the point where it impacted how I played. I knew if I needed help, the coaches were there and the players were very helpful, too.”
She played for the same travel team that Schaper and UK shortstop Katie Reed, who are both from St. Louis, played on before they came to UK. She “knows of them” because she got to see them when they came back to practice and also met them on her visit to UK.
Deter enjoyed playing basketball even though her primary focus from middle school on was softball.
“You use different mechanics in basketball and it keeps you in shape,” Deters said. “I am not not one of the best players but I am decent. I am kind of an all-around player. I am 5-9, so I am the second tallest player on our team. Sometimes I even play in the post, but most of the time I brought the ball up the court because I can also dribble pretty well.”
She’s also a player who thrives under pressure like she did when she hit the game-winning homer in the state championship game.
“Thats how Gabi plays and she rises to the occasion each game that she plays,” Streed said. “Just when you wonder what else she can do, she shows you in the biggest stage of her life, maybe the biggest moments, she’s ever had, that she can do it all: steal bases, pick off runners (cannon of an arm, maybe strongest I’ve ever seen, male or female), hit to the opposite field.
“She played some of her best games at the biggest stages of her career. Her junior year, against Blair Oaks (in the state title game), she doubled and scored, then was intentionally walked the next two times, stealing three bases and scoring two runs. Her senior year against Trenton (in the final) she was intentionally walked, and later scored on a ball in the dirt to give us our first run, and then hit a go-ahead home run, to the opposite field to give us the lead 2-1. She’s a gamer, loves the stage and I can put it this way, in those big games, I trust her pulse.”
Deters lives on a farm where her father plants corn and beans and raises cows and pigs. She grew up doing chores that she says were not that bad.
“Some might think it was nasty, boring or a lot of work,” Deters said. “It’s really not bad. It’s fun seeing animals and feeding them. I don’t have to do that as much now because of playing sports and getting home late.”
The future UK catcher often showed pigs at county fair competitions. Her father always showed pigs, so he asked her if she wanted to try when she got old enough.
“The older I got, the more we got into it,” Deters said. “Most people don’t know a lot about pig stuff. But they can be very expensive. We walk them every morning. We wash and condition their hair. We shave them for showing. They stay in sawdust, not mud, so the coats do not get dirty and stained. When you get to big shows, it gets intense because you want to win so bad.
“If you win at the county fair, then you go to state. The top finishers get to sell their pigs to people or businesses. Every year I have shown pigs I have been in the sale and had someone buy my pig and then say I can take it to state. If you win at the state fair, you have to leave the pigs there and they will sell them. The ones that don’t win, you can take home.”
However, winning is what Deters knows best whether it is softball, basketball or showing pigs.