FORT WALTON BEACH — Two years ago, Kalina Matos was at a crossroads.
After pitching for the Choctaw softball team as a freshman, the Indian senior found herself in “a bit of trouble” and off the team as a sophomore, barred by the previous coaching staff until coach Paul Bridges took over the program ahead of Matos’ junior season and offered her the chance to come back.
“She kinda hemmed and hawed about it,” said Bridges, the reigning Daily News Coach of the Year. “She was nervous, nervous about me and what I was gonna do with the program and just scared of the future.”
Wednesday, Matos sat smiling in the Choctaw High School media center as she put pen to paper on a National Letter of Intent, committing her athletic and academic future to Coastal Alabama Community College in Monroeville, Alabama.
“It’s very overwhelming,” she said. “I worked very hard. The whole process, I was new to. Just to be in this position is amazing.”
And, Bridges said, it’s all thanks to her perseverance.
“She got over that fear of the unknown, and look where it got her,” he said. “If she hadn’t made that choice two years ago, she wouldn’t be sitting here today signing this piece of paper.”
Matos said the scholarship offer came together quickly. She tried out with Coastal Alabama on Jan. 22 while visiting the campus and quickly fell in love.
“I had been to the other two campuses in Bay Minette and Brewton, and they just didn’t feel as comfortable as when I went to visit the one in Monroeville,” she said. “When I got there, it was everything I wanted. It was a small campus, small classes and it just felt perfect. I tried out for the coach; the coach was so nice and I loved her so much.
“It was just a perfect fit for me.”
As a junior, Matos, primarily an outfielder these days, slashed .292/.386/.395 with 11 runs, seven RBI and a home run, helping Choctaw to a 24-2 record, a region semifinal appearance and its first district championship of the fastpitch era.
She said she hopes to double down on that district championship in her final year with the Indians before heading off to Monroeville to join the Eagles and pursue her dream of becoming an FBI agent.
“I’m ready to just be a part of a college team and do great things in college and further my education,” she said.