Jackie Baird says she’s not a numbers person, but it’s hard to ignore the ones she’s been putting up early this season for the East Tennessee State softball team.
The senior catcher from Ooltewah has hit 11 home runs in just 47 at-bats. That leaves her tied for the lead nationally and also ties the single-season record at ETSU, set by Stephanie Gaynord in 2006.
And the Bucs (10-8) just began conference play last weekend.
“It’s really a culmination of hard work over the past three years to get some consistency with my hitting,” Baird said Tuesday. “I’m thinking more about hitting in the gap, and the ball just seems to be carrying.”
Baird needs just one more homer to tie Gaynord’s career record of 25. That’s a mark she never considered heading into the season.
“I hate numbers, because you start trying to do too much if you think about them,” she said. “I didn’t even know I could potentially get to the (career) record. My high before this season was five.
“I guess it would be cool to have my name in the record book, but it’s really all about team. This is my last year, and I want to win.”
The Bucs haven’t done much of that lately. In Baird’s three previous seasons, they posted a 39-105 record. Just to be 10-8 in mid-March qualifies as progress under coach Brad Irwin, who came to Johnson City the same time as Baird. She is one of just three seniors on his roster.
“I knew coach Irwin before I got to ETSU; he was recruiting me at UTC,” said Baird. “We’ve always had a good relationship. He said, ‘We’re going to do this together,’ and it really helps having him behind me.”
Baird, a product of Girls Preparatory School, has had to battle through a variety of injuries, as one might expect of a catcher.
“I had issues with my left shoulder before I even got to college. It was pretty much reconstructed,” she said. “My sophomore year I was in a collision at the plate that injured my right shoulder. I’ve had some ankle troubles … it’s just stuff you have to work through.”
The work is paying off. Baird isn’t just hitting the ball far, she’s hitting it often.
Her .396 batting average leads the team, as does her 24 runs batted in. It’s the long balls, however, that draw the most attention.
She is tied with Chelsea Goodacre of Arizona for the national lead in home runs, but has played in eight fewer games. In fact, everyone in the top 30 on the list has played in more games than Baird.
“I’m not really surprised by her power,” said Irwin, “but I am a little surprised by the rate she’s hitting the home runs. We knew she’s a really good hitter and had some pop. She’s just seeing the ball and swinging so well now that she can hit any pitch out.”
The Bucs lost two of three to Mercer in their home park to open the Atlantic Sun Conference season last weekend. The rubber game on Sunday went eight innings, with the Bears taking a 9-5 victory.
Again, that’s progress.
“We’re frustrated that we didn’t get two out of three, but Mercer is a really strong team,” said Irwin. “They’re a good barometer for us. The last two years we started the conference schedule 0-3 against them. We came out of this one feeling like, We can do this in conference. The girls are chomping at the bit to get down to Gulf Coast this weekend.”
Megan Devine got a chance to see how she stacked up against the best women’s volleyball players in the country last month.
The most decorated player ETSU has ever produced thinks she did well in tryouts for the national team in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It was a great experience to play with the best in front of (head coach) Karch Kiraly,” said Devine. “I think there were 120 different colleges represented there, and a lot of outside hitters. I’m 5-11 and was probably one of the shortest; there were girls up to 6-6.
“I just tried to show the cannon of an arm that I have and what I’ve done all my life here in East Tennessee.”
There were about 250 women invited to the tryouts at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. No announcements have yet been made on who will continue on.
“They invite 12 to go train in Anaheim with the national team and also pick another 12 who have college eligibility left to do the China tour this summer,” said Lindsey Devine, ETSU’s coach and Megan’s mother, who was on hand in Colorado as an evaluator. “These were the best girls from the best programs across the country. Megan knew her chances of making the team were slim, but from what I observed, she did a fantastic job of showcasing her talent.”
Devine was a three-time all-conference first team performer and the player of the year in 2012. She holds the A-Sun record for career kills.
Devine is planning to play professional volleyball overseas later this year. She got a taste of international competition last year with a U.S. team at the Global Challenge in Hungary and Croatia.
“I’m waiting to hear back from an agency about what teams want me in Europe,” said Devine. “Hopefully it’ll be somewhere that has nice weather and good food.”
The ETSU baseball team is still looking for its offense as the non-conference schedule winds down.
The Bucs are hitting just .240 as a team and have been outscored 81-63. Their only hitter over .300 is Clint Freeman, at .333, and he’s 56 points higher than the closest teammate.
The anemic batting average is easily the lowest in the last decade for an ETSU team. None has finished lower than .272.
Of course, the dynamics have changed since the Bucs moved from hitter-friendly Cardinal Park to Thomas Stadium. They’ve hit .288 and .272 in their previous two seasons there.
The Bucs (7-8) play at UNC Asheville today.
The men’s tennis team opens defense of its A-Sun championship when Florida Gulf Coast visits on Friday.
The Bucs have won seven straight tournament championships, and this will be their last attempt before moving into the Southern Conference next year.
They completed a typically difficult non-conference schedule at 4-8, with 10 ranked teams in the mix. They defeated No. 46 Elon 4-0 in their most recent match.comments powered by Disqus