DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Teammates' voices motivate Xavier softball freshman

Some of the more interesting sidelights about the game of high school softball are the cheers that the players scream/chirp from their dugout. Some of them can get pretty inventive when they call out to teammates.

Xavier Prep’s Gators have done some but not a whole lot of that along the way, but this season they have turned up the volume a bit.

A popular occurrence comes when one of the newest players steps up to the plate and her teammates start to fill the air by reaching down below and using their deepest voices to say . . .

“Keeves! Keeves!’’

It is an emotional greeting for the latest Baby Gator, and she is growing up fast on the road to respectability.

It has not taken very long for freshman catcher Riley McKeever to become a popular player for Xavier's Gators (Photo by Don Ketchum).

Meet Riley McKeever, a small-but-tough catcher who adds punch with her left-handed swing that sends numerous line drives to the gaps and seems to be improving by the minute.

Riley stands just 5 feet tall, about a foot shorter than her predecessor, Macy Lee, who hit a grand slam in a performance that handed Xavier its first 6A Conference state championship last season. For a brief time, Riley said, the two were connected by the same catching coach. Lee now is at Michigan State.

Riley wheels a rolling equipment bag near the dugout for practice. It nearly is tall as she.

A reporter scribbles notes and mentions to McKeever that it appears she has a great deal of confidence. You can’t be successful at her position without it.

“Macy was a great player, but I felt I would be capable of fitting into that spot,’’ said McKeever, who also has played second base in club ball.

She admits she would like to be taller, but doesn’t appear to be worried about it. Yes, she is at 5 feet – still – but hasn’t really looked at the numbers on a daily basis.

“I haven’t checked in awhile,’’ she said.

And that statement came with a bit of a warning.

“Don’t overlook me because I’m short,’’ she said.

Xavier has three Rileys – McKeever, senior pitcher Riley Flynn and another freshman, outfielder Rylee Matthews.

Flynn has developed into one of the top pitchers in the state, and both she and McKeever feel comfortable working with each other.

“Riley said she trusts (McKeever) receiving the ball,’’ said Xavier head coach Brad Downes. “Riley’s ball moves a lot and she (McKeever) is getting used to it.’’

McKeever said she feels like she has handled the curveball and the screwball pretty well, and getting used to the rise ball is a work in progress.

And the catcher has become more vocal in her time on the field, Downes says.

When she swings the bat, she just hopes there are runners on base so she gets a chance to drive a few of them in. It doesn’t have to be a home run.

In her first 18 games, she was hitting .364 with 16 hits, including four doubles and a triple, and 9 RBIs. Because of her size, she said opponents think she is primarily a slap hitter.

“If you can bring a few more people home, that takes a lot of the pressure off the team,’’ she said.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why her teammates – seniors, juniors, sophomores, it doesn’t matter – call out to her when it comes time for her to bat. Everybody is on the same page, has the same voice.

 “That is a confidence booster,’’ McKeever said. “That’s the best way for me to explain it.’’

Downes said it would be “cool’’ if the Xavier fans also could adopt the Gator players’ greeting for McKeever.

“You know, “Keeves . . . Keeves,’ ’’ he said.

There will be plenty of time to learn the drill – six more games this season followed by three more years after this. You never know what she will be capable of doing.

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