Lane Kennemore was born for baseball.
So when the 2016 (and inaugural) Paducah Sun All-Purchase Baseball Player of the Year and former Mayfield Cardinal says “I’m coming back” to Kentucky Wesleyan College baseball in 2021 for a second senior season, it should come as no surprise.
He’s just one of thousands of collegiate athletes from across the country who’ve had to come to grips with the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the imminent spread of the coronavirus.
And like so many other local baseballers and softballers, he and the Panthers (7-5) were enjoying an intrepid journey this year — coming off of a five-game winning streak in Florida and boiling at just the right team temperature before the schedule was scuttled.
But rather than go ahead and shift into his career, one he hopes that involves coaching and becoming an athletic director, Kennemore wants to — no, he needs to — lace it up one more time in Owensboro.
As such, he’s taking advantage of the NCAA’s one-time waiver for spring athletes, and hoping 2021 can be a copy-paste of great baseball for the Panthers.
In the team’s final in-person meeting with KWC coach Todd Lillpop, Kennemore’s hand was one of more than a dozen seniors’ paws that shot up, when asked: “Who’s in for 2021?”
“We have to finish what we started,” Kennemore said. “That’s a big part in most of the seniors coming back.
“But at the same time, I’m seeing it as God giving me another year to play baseball. The game that I love. And it wouldn’t be smart for me to not take it.”
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Kennemore was one of four KWC seniors who had off-season surgery between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, and in that final stride of March, he’d pushed his batting average north of .300 and on-base percentage to .400.
But let’s go back to 2018, when the Panthers finished 32-21, 17-9 in the Great Midwest Conference and just short of back-to-back conference championships.
After appearing in 24 games — eight as a designated hitter — in 2017, Kennemore had earned the starting nod at second base. He played in all 53 games and experienced his first learning curve, posting a career-low in batting average (.291) and on-base percentage (.374). He still carved out 58 hits and 29 RBIs with 41 runs scored.
Near the end of his sophomore swing, though, the former Kentucky Prospects standout shredded his left interior labrum.
He doesn’t know exactly when or how, because — as he put it — it didn’t really bother him until the fall of 2018.
A 2019 midseason MRI fully revealed it, and Kennemore simply “played through it,” hitting .342 in 46 starts with 55 hits, 26 RBIs, 43 runs scored, 11 stolen bases and a .452 on-base percentage.
He even got hit by 20 pitches, just for the fun of it.
Adrenaline. The team, which went 30-22 and 19-11 in conference play, made another push for a GMC title but fell painfully short with a second-straight defeat in the league championship game. These served as Kennemore’s motivation.
“That’s all I was running on, was adrenaline,” he added. “The farther we got in the season, the hotter we got and the bats kept coming. I didn’t want to miss being a part of it. I wanted to be right there with my brothers every step of the way. It was honestly an easy decision if the ‘doc’ said I could play through it, which he did.
“A lot of ibuprofen and tape. A lot of ibuprofen and tape.”
Two days after the end of his 2019 junior year, Kennemore had surgery to repair the labrum — then missed most of the summer and fall workouts with KWC.
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It’s hard to say Kennemore was “bouncing back” from an injury, seeing the numbers he still posted in 2019 with one lame labrum.
But it’s exactly what he was looking to do, especially after spending his first off-season truly away from the game.
See Kennemore/Page A7
He’d worked himself back into the KWC starting lineup prior to the 2020 season’s first pitch, and in that perfect five-game stretch in Florida — his entire family having made the trip — he went 7-for-21 with four runs scored and four RBIs while notching eight putouts, 15 assists and just one error at second base.
“After 15 years of playing this game and playing multiple sports most of my life, I’ve finally figured out who I am to the team,” Kennemore said. “And so that’s what I bring the team every day, day in and day out. I’m going to do what I can for us to get the win. And I think coach Lilpopp has helped me see that, especially these past two years.
“I’m just here to do my job and help get us a win.”