The King’s Academy coach Marc Weekly could sense something was wrong with Kaylan Cole in this year’s state softball tournament in Murfreesboro.

Cole was struggling in the circle, which was uncharacteristic for the junior Tennessee commit. Battling a rotator cuff injury in her right arm, she said Weekly pulled her aside after one of the games.

“He was like, ‘Is it hurting?’ and I just broke down automatically,” Cole said. “I’m not a very emotional person actually. … He told me, if it’s hurting, I need to get out because he cares more about my future than one pitch.”

Cole hung tough and pitched TKA to its third state title in four years. She had one of her best games of the month despite sometimes sharp pain, leading the Lady Lions to a 3-1 victory over Chattanooga Christian in the TSSAA Division II-A Tournament championship.

For her prominent role in TKA’s success and ability to overcome adversity, Cole is The Daily Times’ Pitcher of the Year.

“Anytime you have the type of bats we have and then you have Kaylan deciding, ‘Hey, I’m not letting anyone score for the rest of this game,’ it’s a dangerous combination,” Weekly said. “We’re not the program we are today without Kaylan Cole.”

Cole finished the season with a 2.57 ERA and 173 strikeouts. She began playing softball at age 5 and quickly stood out as the tallest player on the field, earning her the pitching role.

Her first glove was pink and adorned with the Tennessee logo.

“I was always the biggest girl, always,” Cole said. “Then I stopped growing in like fifth grade.”

However, Cole’s size at the time garnered attention from coaches. She began playing travel ball that involved competing in tournaments around the country. She recalls one in particular in Panama City, Florida, in which there were radar clocks tracking her pitch speed. At around age 10, Cole was throwing 54 miles per hour.

“That’s how I started realizing I was a pretty good pitcher,” Cole said. “I just started practicing every day trying to get better, and I realized what level I wanted to compete at for the rest of my life in the sport I loved the most.”

Cole entered onto Weekly’s radar through travel ball as well as by attending softball camps through TKA and UT. Weekly is son to Ralph Weekly — co-head coach of the Tennessee softball team.

“I always knew Kaylan was going to be special because of her work ethic and passion,” Marc Weekly said. “Nothing ever rattles her, and you could see that from a young age. She’s a kid that, if she knows you love her, she will run through a wall for you.”

Cole proved that resilience this season as pain began developing in her arm when she pitched, shooting from her upper shoulder to her fingers. It was April when it began. Resting it wasn’t exactly an option mid-season.

Marc Weekly began taking Cole to physical therapy every day during lunch hours.

“He’s a great coach because he doesn’t just focus on softball, he focuses on developing young women,” Cole said. “Coach Weekly is like a mentor and a father figure, he’s not even a coach to me.”

Marc Weekly said his bond with Cole is special because the pair can be honest with each other. It’s not something every player can handle.

“I’m considered to be a tough coach,” Marc Weekly said. “I feel like we both mutually respect each other and really count on each other.”

Marc Weekly knew Cole wouldn’t cave into her pain, as she wouldn’t be able to stomach letting her team down. For that reason, he began limiting her throughout the postseason despite it potentially costing TKA a shot at the state title.

“We weren’t going to jeopardize things,” Marc Weekly said. “She’d go out there and throw until her arm fell off if you don’t watch her.”

At the state tournament the Lady Lions had to win two elimination games after a loss to Chattanooga Christian dropped them into the loser’s bracket. It was after that game Marc Weekly considered not allowing Cole to pitch out of concern she might risk further injury.

After a conversation and consulting with a trainer, they decided she could pitch in the final three games.

“She didn’t pitch great in the state tournament in the first two games,” Marc Weekly said. “But then a flip switched and she just said, ‘I’m going to put this team on my back and I’m going to shut some teams down,’ and that’s exactly what she did.

“It’s not like anything changed in 48 hours other than the fact she just said, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Cole pitched 10 innings over the two elimination games and came back with a six-hitter in a complete game the next day in the state championship. She did not allow a hit until the fourth inning.

Cole called her injury a “small setback to a very successful year.”

“My injury taught me two things,” she said. “To never take a pitch for granted and to stay calm and focused, even when things are not under my control.”

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