Northwest Louisiana is loaded with softball talent this spring, judging by the plethora of signees and verbal commitments playing at area high schools.
There are at least 11 prep players who have already inked scholarship papers with colleges, while at least four more have given oral commitments to play at the next level.
Lady Techsters softball coach Mark Montgomery, who arrived in Ruston last year too late to tap into the 2013 class, already has three verbals from local juniors. They include Evangel pitcher Carolina Sanchez (0.72 ERA), North Caddo catcher Kassie Harris (.423) and Airline shortstop Katie Smith (.389).
“The talent in the Shreveport-Bossier City area, and north Louisiana as a whole, was good when I was here before (at Centenary), but it keeps getting stronger,” Montgomery said. “There are so many quality coaches over there. Plus, there are a lot of kids playing competitively in the summer and they’re taking that to their high schools.”
Evangel catcher Baylee Shephard (.370), a Times All-City player, is a local player inking at a Division I school, after deciding on a scholarship offer from Northwestern State.
“Coach (Donald) Pickett said he was excited that I was coming to Natchitoches,” Shephard said. “I asked him what the next step was. He said to just wait until signing day and to keep him updated on my progress.”
Many of the players are recruited while playing travel ball in the summer, since college coaches have a difficult time attending prep games due to conflicting schedules. A number of local standouts play with the Louisiana Freedom softball team, coached by Sher Mueller, Jimmy Ashby, Lory Kowaleski and Emerald Doria.
Bossier Parish Community College coach Ashley Grisham has signed four area seniors to her program. They include Southwood’s Haley Peters and North Webster’s Alexis Kerry, along with Stanley’s Carla Crawford and Tyler Foshee. The latter three players were on The Times All-Area softball team.
“I’m all about growing the sport of softball and anytime you see a local kid moving on to college, it helps our area,” said Grisham, who sees about one high school game each week. “I would love to sign all of my kids locally, but I have to go to Texas for some. I’m really excited about this group we have coming in.”
The 2012 Times Pitcher of the Year McKenzie Ashby (0.70 ERA) is headed to Seminole Junior College, while teammate Brittany Taylor (.364) will play at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla. Parkway’s Danielle Cruickshank (.465) has chosen LSU-Eunice as her next stop, while Haughton’s Lani Woods (.352) will head to Lamar State College Port Arthur, Texas. Jordi Mason of North Caddo will continue her career at Division III power Louisiana College. Ruston’s Kendall Smith has inked with UL-Lafayette.
The latest signee is Calvary shortstop Paige Gipson (.359), who is headed to Meridian Community College after inking at the school on Friday.
“I went to a camp in Covington in December and met the coaches there,” Gipson said. “We went on a visit and I liked how small the campus was. Everything was close together. And I like the coaches.”
Over the weekend, Haughton junior Brooke Payton (.389) verbally committed to Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, Ark. Payton said committing to the Lady Eagles, currently ranked 14th in the NAIA Division I poll, was easy.
“I liked how small the school was (about 600 students), which will give me more time with my teachers,” Payton said. “I like the fact that it’s a Christian school and that you can get enveloped in that atmosphere.”