Nicole Baxter wonâ€™t have to worry about college recruiters when softball season rolls aroundâ€”that decision has already been made.
In life, there are times you just know. You donâ€™t know why you know and donâ€™t see it coming, but nonetheless you feel it. Thatâ€™s how it was for Baxter the second she stepped onto Lees-McRae Collegeâ€™s campus.
â€œI went up there and I love the mountains. I saw the scenery, how it was small and close together and then they said, â€˜Yeah, we get snow up to your waist sometimes,â€ Baxter said.
Right there on the spot, she made her mind upâ€”she wanted to be a Bobcat. â€œI said thatâ€™s it Iâ€™m going,â€ Baxter said.
Joined by her parents, Alice and David Baxter, North Lincolnâ€™s coaches Rick Brown, David Johnson and Melanie Painter (in spirit), Baxter signed a National Letter of Intent to continue her career at Lees-McRae.
Also on hand, last Friday, were her siblings, 14-year old brother Sean and 12-year old sister Jill and Denver Dazzle coaches Bobby Shoemaker and Ken Cooke.
â€œItâ€™s a dream come true. Iâ€™ve always wanted to play college softball ever since I was little. Iâ€™m looking forward to it,â€ Baxter, who is planning on being a veterinarian said.
Brownâ€™s just happy sheâ€™s getting the opportunity, citing the discrepancy between the two sexes in collegiate sports.
â€œIâ€™m always glad to see girls have an opportunity to play college ball, especially on scholarship because a lot of girls donâ€™t seem to get as many chances as guys do,â€ he said.
Baxter has been, arguably, the biggest reason the Lady Knights have back-to-back third place finishes in the North Carolina final four in the past two seasons.
She, however, always credits God, her teammates and coaches for helping her succeed.
â€œThe Lord has helped me get through some difficult times and Heâ€™s always there for meâ€”I can always count Him,â€ Baxter, who had a 4.2 GPA as junior, said Thursday.
Jim Daley, her pitching coach, along with the rest of a strong support group is partly responsible for her stellar three-year career as she enters her senior season.
â€œHeâ€™s (Daley) really played a big role, helping me become a better pitcher. My parents and my coaches have helped me become the person I am today,â€ she said.
Despite back-to-back seasons of 15-plus wins on the mound (16-8 and 18-8), Brown feels his pitcherâ€™s best softball is in front of her.
â€œShe started out fairly strong. I think she leveled out a little bit this last season, but after talking to her and seeing how hard sheâ€™s workedâ€”I feel like sheâ€™s ready to step it up another notch,â€ Brown said.
Baxter, who posted a 1.79 ERA last season, expects a big difference between high school and college competition, but sheâ€™s looking forward to it.
â€œIâ€™ll have to work harder. They expect more out of you. Itâ€™s a little more intense. In college, everybody you face will be the best,â€ she said.
And how does she remember the first three years of her career?
â€œItâ€™s been really, really fun. I loved it and I would not trade those years for anything,â€ she said.
After so much individual success, Baxter wants one thing to put the icing on the cakeâ€”a state championship.
by John Mark Brooks