From torn ACL to ace pitcher

Carlos Silva/ THE GATEPOST

March 30 was just a normal Saturday for most people. 

But for Framingham State’s senior Kelsi Gunarathne, it was a day worth remembering.

The ace pitcher for the Rams’ softball team shattered the all-time strikeout record for Framingham State University on that Saturday. She walked away with back-to-back wins in which she pitched 10 innings, struck out 10 batters, gave up only three hits, and didn’t allow a run in either game. 

The milestone was 360 strikeouts, and she accomplished the acheivement of 361 strikeouts even with roadblocks along the way.

“It honestly feels unreal,” Gunarathne said. “My freshman year, I tore my ACL halfway through the season and was out of softball for the rest of the season. I never thought I would be able to beat any records with missing half of my freshman season.”

After returning from the injury, Gunarathne went on a dominant run and cemented herself as Framingham softball’s ace. 

Head Coach Lawrence Miller said, “Anytime you lose a player to an injury like that – it’s tough, especially a pitcher. That was a particularly tough year for us as well.” 

He added, “When she came back for her sophomore season, she was definitely a different pitcher.”

Before the torn ACL, Gunarathne had a 4-7 record with an ERA of 4.05. But after her recovery, Gunarathne went 33-15 with a sub-2.00 ERA over the next two seasons. 

“Tearing my ACL really did push me to work harder and overcome the injury, and I was not satisfied with my performance prior to the injury,” Gunarathne said. “I knew if I was coming back, I had to work and train harder.”

Miller said, “After tearing her ACL her freshman year, [Kelsi] rehabbed and worked hard to get back on the field, and when she did, she was fantastic. She plays the game with a lot of passion, which her teammates feed off.

An ACL injury is a tear or sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – one of the major ligaments in the knee. 

The recovery period for an ACL tear can span from two to six months. But it can take a full nine months before an athlete can return to their pre-ACL tear form. 

Even after recovery, an athlete may never be the same. On the other hand, an athlete could also perform better than they did before the injury. 

With the unstoppable run Gunarathne went on after her injury, it is safe to say she fell into the latter category. 

Three years after the ACL tear, Gunarathne broke the all-time strikeout record and didn’t waste any time shattering another record, as she became the all-time wins leader in FSU softball history April 11. 

She pitched a complete-game in the first half of a doubleheader against Simmons to secure the record. 

“I had no idea I broke the record. After both games were over, my coaches announced it to the team,” Gunarathne said. “I was very excited, but also knew that there was still a large portion of the season left to stay focused on.”

The record had been held since the mid-90s before Gunarathne broke it.

With two records in her back pocket, Gunarathne has accomplished what very few college athletes have. 

“Growing up, my family was very into softball, which is how I became passionate for it. I’d say they were all very excited and happy for me,” Gunarathne said. “They knew how hard I worked after my ACL tear and saw the ups and downs I had throughout college.”

Throughout her accomplished softball career that has included two MASCAC titles and a career sub- 3.00 ERA, Gunarathne has made the most of her time off the diamond as well. 

“My teammates have become such close friends of mine. Playing softball has given me the chance to make lifelong friends and learn how to be a leader, along with multitasking and prioritizing my life,” Gunarathne said. “The best part about playing for the Rams is that we have such great chemistry and really push each other to be better on the field and in the books.”

Oftentimes, a student-athlete is viewed solely an athlete. But the student part is just as – if not more – important than the athlete part.

College athletes sometimes run into problems when it comes to balancing athletics and academics, but some find a way to blend the two. 

“Having softball has really helped me keep track of my schoolwork. It helped me maintain grades because I knew I had a specific time frame to do work. It also motivated me to keep high grades to continue to play softball, as well as set a good example of what a student-athlete should do,” Gunarathne said. “[It] also kept me from missing much class time, because I knew I had to stay on top of schoolwork when I did have to miss class for games.”

Working hard both on the field and in the classroom is the epitome of being a student-athlete. 

“Student-athlete is the term and that’s what they are,” Miller said. “Student first, athlete second – and Kelsi is a great model of both.”

Now in her senior year as an economics major, Gunarathne is wrapping up both her academic and athletic careers. 

With the goal of becoming the FSU all-time strikeout and wins leader off the board, her final goal is obvious. 

“My goal, going forward, is to win one last MASCAC [title] with the amazing players on this team for my senior year,” Gunarathne said. “It’s been a journey that I definitely want to finish with a bang, and I couldn’t do it without the amazing support and chemistry I have from my team and coaching staff.” 

As the season slowly winds down, Framingham is shooting to compete for a third-straight MASCAC title in a division they dominate. 

At this point in the season, the Rams are 11-0 in the MASCAC. Gunarathne is a key reason they are successful in the conference as she holds a 7-0 record with a 0.18 ERA against conference teams.

With Gunarathne on the mound, the Rams have reason to believe they will secure a third-straight MASCAC title.