BUTTE – It didn’t take a lot of convincing for Butte High senior pitcher Kaidy McClafferty to decide that she wanted to play softball at NCAA Division II’s Bemidji University.
A few pictures helped, as did a recruiting trip to the northern Minnesota campus. So did a practice session with some of her future teammates and a few chats with Beavers coach Rick Supinski.
What sealed the deal, however, might have been a cheese-curd burger.
“I probably had the best cheese-curd burger in my entire life there,” McClafferty said of a recruiting trip to Bemidji this past summer. “I love food. That was a plus.”
McClafferty made her official commitment to the school on Friday afternoon at Butte High’s old gymnasium when she signed her letter of intent to play for the Beavers.
Bemidji shirts and caps were suddenly a fashion statement at Butte High for several family members and well-wishers who attended the ceremony.
It only took one phone call for Bemidji – the town, the campus and its softball program – to attach itself to McClafferty’s radar.
“I was calling to see if you wanted to come look at our school and be a pitcher for Bemidji State University,” said Supinski after McClafferty answered.
Her initial reaction wasn’t exactly filled with excitement.
“I was just like, ‘Where’s Bemidji?’” she recalled.
So McClafferty did her homework.
“I did some research and looked at some pictures and the first thing that pulled me in was that the school is right on a lake,” McClafferty added. “It was absolutely a beautiful campus just from the pictures. I thought it was gorgeous. I wanted to go visit that. Something just felt like it was pulling me to it. Something was pulling me toward that college.”
Bemidji also has plenty of places to hunt and fish, things that are high on McClafferty’s list of hobbies.
“I’m definitely a country girl,” she said. “I love hunting, fishing, camping and all of that.”
So do a lot of McClafferty’s future teammates.
“As soon as practice is done on Friday, half the team goes out the door to get to their deer stands,” Supinski said. “Getting someone like her to come all the way out here, it’s a big win for our program because we can show other people from Montana that they can come out here.”
Just like Bemidji made a strong impact on McClafferty, her pitching skills and work ethic had a similar effect on Supinski.
The sixth-year coach caught his first glimpse of McClafferty on a recruiting video and knew right away that she would be a good addition to the program.
He flew to Spokane this past summer, where she was competing in a tournament, and his initial instincts were validated. Then it was just a matter of convincing her to join the program.
“That’s what really solidified it for me,” Supinski said in a phone conversation on Friday evening. “Beyond the talent that is there, she is one of the best kids that I’ve had the opportunity to recruit.
“Where we are located, we have to bring in kids who are hard-working. It’s a blue-collar, bring-your-lunchpail-to-work town where you work on the basics and get better.”
McClafferty has been doing that for most of her life. Growing up in a city like Butte has given her the toughness and discipline needed to drive herself to get better.
“She is a hard worker,” said Kim McClafferty, Kaidy’s mother. “Even in junior high school, she would go play a basketball game and then she would get home and she’d go practice pitching. It didn’t matter if she had practice in any other sport, she was always pitching three nights a week all year long.”
McClafferty has already reached out to Supinski, asking what pitches he wanted her to work on, something that is surprising to nobody.
Once Kaidy knew that she wanted to go to Bemidji, she made a verbal commitment to Supinski. Revealing that commitment to her parents was a bit tougher.
“They wanted me to stay close to home,” said Kaidy, who also visited North Dakota-Jamestown and Black Hills State University. “I kind of understood that but I needed to go here. It felt right. It felt like this was the place that I could build my life off of.
“And of course I want to come back to Butte, I love Butte. But I really wanted to go to Bemidji so I talked to them and we got our differences sorted out. They agreed with me because they admitted that coach Stepinski was a great coach and they trusted him right off the bat.”
With one prep season remaining, Kaidy would like to help the Bulldogs win their first state championship since 2011. She would also like to extend a hand to the younger teammates on the squad, something that was done to her when she was a freshman.
“Kaidy has put so much hard work in and this is something she strived for, for so long,” Butte High softball coach Ryan Stosich said. “Her dream was to go play college softball.
“We as coaches are here for her and all of the other kids but she was committed to the open gyms and she didn’t miss too many. She molded herself by being dedicated to the program. She has gotten so much physically stronger than she was as a freshman and her commitment to open gyms and practice did that. She’s there nonstop giving all she’s got.”