The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

Gator Pass
The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

Gators softball standout praised for ‘clutch’ play, motivating leadership

CCAA Player of the Week defends her title as a consistent player
Andrew Fogel
Kai DeLeon bats during the first game of the doubleheader against the Cal Poly Humboldt Lumberjacks at the SFSU softball field on March 15, 2024. DeLeon is second on the team in hits, and third in batting average, and would record a hit in each game of the doubleheader. (Andrew Fogel / Golden Gate Xpress)

Diving plays and clutch hitting — these are some of the noticeable tools Kai DeLeon carries in her arsenal during a softball game. As noted by her teammates, they’re two actions that display a winning culture on and off the field.

DeLeon, second baseman for San Francisco State University’s softball team, demonstrates great leadership skills on and off the field. The CCAA Player of the Week is commonly acknowledged as one of the team’s most motivating players, according to her teammates.

At six years old, DeLeon began her softball journey. Her father mentored and guided her in learning the basic fundamentals of the sport. She then developed a passion to continue her career in softball over other extracurriculars, like basketball, soccer, dance and karate before she fully shifted her focus to softball.

“I think he definitely took his time and effort and learned the game of softball, taking the time to learn from other coaches and applying it with me and my sister,” DeLeon said. “I kind of just ran with it and it was just something that he and I bonded over.”

DeLeon’s older sister Lehua was also one of the reasons why she became dedicated to the sport, as she followed in her footsteps just a couple of years behind. Lehua was a senior when DeLeon joined the SFSU softball team as a freshman and the familiar connection gave her an early experience that persuaded her to join the team.

Kai DeLeon (center) huddles with other teammates while talking to a coach during the first game of the doubleheader against the Cal Poly Humboldt Lumberjacks at the SFSU softball field on March 15, 2024. (Andrew Fogel /Golden Gate Xpress) (Andrew Fogel)

“Being with her and what we’ve been through growing up definitely led me to come this way,” DeLeon said. “The coach’s [family] as well, has been a big help, too. Both of them have really led me to come this way.”

Head coach Alicia Reid has known DeLeon since she was 10 years old when Reid’s younger sister played softball with Lehua as kids. Reid has known DeLeon’s family for approximately a decade, allowing her to simultaneously see Kai and Lehua’s skills as players improve.

“When she was young, watching her sister’s game, she was always at the front of the dugout — watching and listening to the coaches that were explaining things and trying to teach,” Reid said. “She was kind of just that sponge, soaking up everything —and even when the coach wasn’t around if another coach had said something, Kai would be kind of that echo of ‘No, no, no, that’s not what was said or that’s not how it’s done.’”

Reid knew she wanted another DeLeon sister on the team after she saw her skills improve over several years. When Reid was appointed the softball team’s head coach, she knew she wanted to integrate somebody of that caliber into the team.

“When you have players who do all of the things correctly — as far as always helping set up, helping pick up, putting things away — that just makes a coach’s job easier,” Reid said. “That’s not even to mention the things that they do on the field. When I got that job and started recruiting a few years out, I knew that was someone I definitely wanted to bring in.”

This season, DeLeon has a batting average of .321 and a fielding percentage of .941.

She is known as one of the most dependable players on the team. She consistently performs offensively and defensively, an observation repeatedly mentioned by multiple teammates. She leads by example, which helps her stand out and fosters a safe environment for players who might be new to the team, according to Nia Trinidad.

Third-year Nia Trinidad is familiar with DeLeon’s reputation. They played against each other for about six to seven years before being on the same team at SFSU. Trinidad felt welcomed by DeLeon as a transfer student last fall and said she learned a couple of things from her as an opponent. Trinidad said she appreciates the strong work ethic displayed by DeLeon.

Kai DeLeon steals second base during the bottom of the first inning against the Cal Poly Humboldt Lumberjacks at the SFSU softball field on March 15, 2024. (Andrew Fogel / Golden Gate Xpress) (Andrew Fogel)

I think she’s very dedicated and motivating,” Trinidad said. “She’s one of our leaders on the team. Just to have someone who’s constantly on your back but also believes in you is really important. You can just tell that she cares about this team and she cares about winning, so it’s exciting.”

Outfielder Phoebe Schultz finds it difficult to highlight a specific moment where DeLeon might’ve shown outstanding skills during a game since she’s always proving her game-winning skills to the team.

“She literally comes up clutch every game,” Shultz said. “She’s our leadoff hitter, so she’ll come up with a big hit and it just gets everyone going.”

Although things don’t always go her way during play, she manages to make the best out of any situation and pull her team through difficult moments, even while struggling with injuries.

“I suffered a pretty bad concussion last year — I had a Humboldt series; I got a concussion on our third game the second day. I was out for the whole week, and gaining my strength back to be there for my team [was difficult] — but not come back so quickly to where I’m gonna damage myself or the team because of this one injury,” DeLeon said. “But trusting them and knowing that they could do their job without me, but I’ll still support them and come back stronger than ever and show them I’m back and I’m ready.”

During a recent game against California State University, San Bernardino, DeLeon wasn’t playing her best offensively because she couldn’t get a hit and her teammates noticed her rare situation. She wasn’t able to make some great plays, but her team noticed she could play like her normal self with more hits by the end of the series.

Right-handed pitcher Mari Takeda Bajan described DeLeon’s ambition and resilience during times of adversity.

“It was very rare to see her struggle,” Takeda Bajan said. “She didn’t have a good offensive day. She was always on defense trying to make up for those bad offensive days — which are not often at all — and she just really tries to be as positive as she can, and just pushes through and tries to make anything happen.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Kathia Noriega
Kathia Noriega, Staff Reporter
Kathia Noriega (she/her) is a reporter for Golden Gate Xpress. She is a journalism major and was born in Redwood City but grew up in San Mateo, California. Kathia enjoys watching baseball and sports highlights in her spare time which sparked her joy for writing about sports. Before transferring to SFSU, she attended Skyline College and wrote for the student newspaper, The Skyline View. Kathia loves listening to music 24/7 and if you happen to catch her listening to music, it’s probably either J.Cole or Bad Bunny.
Andrew Fogel
Andrew Fogel, Photographer
Andrew Fogel is a photographer for Golden Gate Xpress and Xpress Magazine who’s majoring in photojournalism and minoring in labor and employment studies. If he’s not taking photos, Andrew can be found rooting for the various Philadelphia sports teams. He aspires to be either a staff photographer or a sports photographer in the future.

Comments (0)

All Golden Gate Xpress Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *