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Former Lady Dog receives Gatorade Award

Former Artesia High Lady Dog and Dexter Lady Demon Kali Crandall has been named New Mexico's Gatorade Softball Player of the Year. (Greg Brown Photo)

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ARTESIA –– Kali Crandall started playing softball when she was 8 years old. Almost 10 years later, the recent Artesia High School graduate is the Gatorade New Mexico Softball Player of the Year.

The award recognizes athletic and academic achievements, along with character traits demonstrated on and off the field. Crandall is the first softball player from Artesia to receive the award and she said she was surprised when she heard about the honor.

“It was amazing when I found out I was first nominated,” Kali Crandall said. “It never crossed my mind — I just couldn’t believe it. Whenever I found out at 6 a.m. on Monday, I got up and woke my parents up and I told them. It was so joyous and emotional. It was just an awe moment for my family and I.”

Kali’s father, Casey Crandall, was in Oklahoma watching Kali’s younger sister playing in a tournament when she gave him the news.

“To be able to see a kid with (that) kind of excitement, it’s a joy as a parent,” Casey Crandall said. “As a parent having coached her for so long, especially with all the work she has put in, she finally gets to see the payoff of the hours and everything she’s had to sacrifice.”

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Casey Crandall estimates he has been coaching his daughter in one form or another since she was 6 years old. For the past couple of seasons, he has been an assistant with the Lady Dog softball team. The Lady Dogs won the 5A state title last month.

“I started playing tee-ball and started pitching around 8-years-old and I’ve just been working at it ever since all year round,” Kali said. “I take a few months off around December and January and I play basketball. But outside of those two months, I play softball year round.”

The first team she played for was the Dexter Darlings. Casey Crandall said the team was started by his by wife Chanda and a couple of other team mothers. The team actually played games in Roswell.

“Roswell let us play up there and it went really well,” Casey Crandall said. “We started playing at some tournaments in Carlsbad, Las Cruces and Lubbock. It just took off from there and just kept getting better and better. Kali really enjoyed getting to do it. 12 years went really fast.”

Kali Crandall is no stranger to playing in state championship games. She was on two of the four Dexter Lady Demon title teams, playing in her freshman and sophomore year.

“That was great,” Kali Crandall said. “We were so young whenever I won my first one in ninth grade. Eighth grade year, we got third and then ninth grade year we won. It was incredibly neat. I remember crying and then the next year I pitched and we did it again and they ended up doing it four years in a row. I’m so proud of that program. Coach Kim Smith and her softball program are so good. I felt blessed to play with her and her team and to win two titles there was so fun.”

Kali didn’t experience another state championship with the Lady Demons as her dad took a job with the Artesia Public Schools during her junior year. Prior to the move, Casey Crandall taught and coached in Hagerman and Dexter.

“I had turned down a science job there for years,” Casey Crandall said of the move to Artesia. “A former teacher and friend of mine told me how great a school it was. The education there is amazing and wanted the best for my girls. I wanted them to experience the awesome community support too.”

Last year, the Crandall’s made it to state and the Lady Dogs came in second losing to Aztec.

“It was kind of sad getting second place,” Casey Crandall said. “Kali had never gotten worse than champion. It was kind of hard to see that. It fired those kids up and this year, it paid off.”

The Lady Dogs finished this past season with a 29-4 record. Kali went 15-2 with a 1.18 ERA. She struck out 115 batters and had 14 walks in 89 innings pitched.

As a hitter, she had a .424 batting average with eight home runs and 32 RBIs. She’s also a two-time First Team All-State selection and she is also a four-time All-District honoree.

“Winning for Artesia was amazing,” Kali Crandall said. “All of the community was out here supporting the team and the coaches were great. It’s been 17 years since we’ve won a state title. So I know we were all urging and wanting this victory for our community and our program. We worked really hard and knowing our hard work paid off we were all in awe when it happened.”

Kali Crandall’s softball career will continue next year at Oklahoma Christian University. She has signed a National Letter of Intent to play in Edmond, just north of Oklahoma City.

“I plan on pitching and playing first base and being in the lineup,” Kali said.

Recently retired OCU head softball coach Tom Heath spent nearly three years recruiting Kali and he feels that she’ll put some bounce into the Lady Eagles.

“What I think she will do is she will be in the pitching rotation,” Heath said of her impending rookie season. “She is going to be an immediate impact on this program and she’s going to step in.”

This past season, the Lady Eagles were 32-25 and Heath announced his retirement once play concluded. Heath plans on watching Kali and his former charges play next season, plus he plans on doing some fundraising for the softball program.

Heath said Jessica Ruckman, associate head coach, has been handling things during the interim and a permanent replacement could be named next week.

Kali said Heath’s family is expecting a new addition soon.

“I’m really sad because he’s a great coach and we had a great relationship. However, he will be getting a grand baby so I know he made the right decision,” Kali said.

Kail plans on majoring in biology and going into the pre-medical program. After graduation, she would like to attend medical school at the University of Oklahoma and become a medical missionary.

“For us and our family it’s huge,” Casey Crandall said of his daughter attending OCU. “Faith is very big for our family and they’re a faith based university with a brand new softball facility. It’s one of the top educational schools in the state.”

The Gatorade Player of the Year program recognizes one winner from each state and the District of Columbia that sanction high school sports and awards one National Player of the Year award in each sport.

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