ORONO — University of Maine senior left fielder Kali Burnham has some extra motivation this season.
Her mother and one of her biggest supporters, Cheryl Harper, died of cancer in October.
She has dedicated the season to her mother’s memory.
And she is having a terrific year to date.
Burnham said her mother “is one of the reasons I want to do well. Every time she could make it to one of my games, she came. She set up my apartment for me. I miss her a lot. I’ve had some sad days lately.”
Entering Tuesday’s 4 p.m. home game against Husson University, Burnham leads the Black Bears in three offensive categories: average (.346), hits (37) and on-base percentage (.427). She is tied for first in triples (1) and is second in runs (22), doubles (6), runs batted in (16) and slugging percentage (.477). She has struck out just seven times in 108 at-bats.
The native of Courtice, Ontario, an All-America East second-team outfielder last season when she hit .290 with 15 RBIs, has even more impressive numbers in league play.
She is hitting .441 (15-for-34) through Maine’s nine America East games with nine RBIs and seven runs scored. She has five multiple-hit games.
There are several reasons behind her success.
“Maturity, I guess,” said Burnham, who hits second in the order. “I’m seeing the ball a little bit better. I’ve got a lot more confidence this year. I worked really hard over the summer to get into shape so I could be ready for the season.”
The lefthanded-hitting Burnham, who is also an excellent bunter, is hitting the inside pitch better thanks to a suggestion made by head coach Deb Smith.
“Quite honestly, I used to run and hide from inside pitches. But (Smith) got me an arm (elbow) guard this year so I’m not afraid of them any more,” Burnham said.
“She’s much more comfortable with the inside pitch,” said Smith. “She used to bail out. But the elbow guard has enabled her to handle the inside pitch better. She’s really controlling the plate better.
“She’s doing a great job,” added Smith. “She continues to gain confidence. She’s a kid I love having up with runners in scoring position. It seems like every time she’s up, she has a great at-bat and puts the ball in play somewhere.”
“She has always been a great contact hitter,” said Maine junior ace righty Ashley Kelley. “This year, she has definitely showed that she is also a powerful hitter.”
Senior third baseman and tri-captain Terren Hall said Burnham has something to prove.
“She’s playing for her mom. She’s been having a great year,” Hall said.
“She has been a good player for them for a couple of years,” said Stony Brook coach Megan Bryant. “I’ll be happy when she graduates.”
In addition to her offensive prowess, Burnham has also played errorless ball in left field, handling 58 chances.
Burnham said her father, David Burnham, is hoping to establish a scholarship in her mother’s name at Maine to provide money for schoolbooks and other necessities.