Sides becomes slugging star with Razorbacks

By: Ethan Westerman
Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Arkansas' KB Sides runs the bases after hitting a home run during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Fayetteville.
( David Beach/Special to the Democrat-Gazette )
Arkansas' KB Sides runs the bases after hitting a home run during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, April 30, 2022, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — When the University of Arkansas softball team faces Texas in Game 1 of the NCAA Fayetteville Super Regional on Thursday, the first Razorback stepping to the plate will be ready to set the tone.

KB Sides has caused problems for opponents all season from the leadoff spot. In her lone season with the Razorbacks, Sides has punished competition with a .392 batting average, a team-high 66 runs and 28 stolen bases.

The transfer senior from Dora, Ala., came to Arkansas after playing four seasons at the University of Alabama. With the Crimson Tide, Sides hit three home runs. In her one season playing for the Razorbacks, she has hit 13.

“I would say a lot of it is mental for sure,” Sides said of the increase. “I have not wavered up and down whatsoever. I have been able to stay consistent. And I think that’s been one of the most impactful things to my season is just my mental game and how the coaches have done such a good job, keeping me positive all the time.”

Arkansas Coach Courtney Deifel said she’s seen Sides’ talent from day one, and her success is a byproduct of restored belief.

“She’s always been a very, very good softball player,” Deifel said. “I think we’re seeing her at her most confident version. I think that she and Coach Yo [assistant coach Yolanda McRae] worked on putting a little more power back in her swing, but we’re seeing her really just comfortable. We’re seeing her really confident and really happy.”

The outfielder had a stellar season against conference opponents, leading the league in hits and runs scored. She was second in batting average, on-base percentage and total bases.

Sides’ speed has added a new dimension to the Arkansas offense. In 2021, the Razorbacks stole four bases. With her addition in 2022, the team has stolen 38, Sides being responsible for 28.

The next closest Razorback has six.

Her production grabbed attention throughout the conference. Prior to Arkansas’ SEC Tournament matchup against Florida on May 13, Sides was with her teammates when she received word that she had been named SEC Player of the Year.

She is the only Razorback to ever win the award.

“It was a very special moment for me,” Sides said. “I think the more I’ve thought about it, it gets even crazier to think about how much I developed from last year to this year. And Arkansas has been a huge part of that. I would have never gotten it anywhere else. The girls here, they made me better every single day, and especially the coaches — they’ve all made me better and it’s just a direct example of them.

“It’s definitely really special for my parents, though, because I think them watching me play last year, I was a different kid than what I am now. I wasn’t very happy, but now I feel like I have this different glow about me.”

The joy felt this season by Sides was on full display after breaking out of a mini-slump during the sixth inning of Arkansas’ 9-2 victory over Oregon in the NCAA Fayetteville Regional finale Sunday.

“I think I was like 0 for 6 the last two games coming up on that at-bat,” she said. “But I just flushed everything. Completely flushed it. And I was like, ‘It is what it is. We’re going to swing hard and whatever happens, happens.’ ”

What happened next was a moment Sides said she won’t forget. She launched a two-run home run to center field, placing an exclamation mark on the six-run inning. The hit brought the crowd at Bogle Park to its feet as she rounded the bases, pumping her fist in joy.

“It was definitely one of the most memorable things because of all the fans that were here,” she said. “Like it was packed full. It was so cool. And just the atmosphere that it was in, I thought that was really special.”

Sides used one word to describe how she has felt at Arkansas: loved.

“She’s [Deifel] so genuine and loving to us,” Sides said. “And she shows it without even saying it. I think that’s so special about our coaches. I never wonder if they believe in me, like any of them, all four of the coaches on this staff. They told me that as soon as I got here, that I would never go a day without knowing that they believed in me.

“And I have never gone a day without knowing that. Somebody reminds me of it every single day.”

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