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Ladybirds’ Bailey shares Big East honor

Cooper named conference’s top pitcher

Posted on May 24, 2021

SportsSchool Sports
Kierstin Cooper of Southern Nash, shown looking at the catcher during a March 30 game against Hunt, was tabbed as the 3-A Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Kierstin Cooper of Southern Nash, shown looking at the catcher during a March 30 game against Hunt, was tabbed as the 3-A Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year.

Southern Nash’s Taylor Bailey, shown making contact with the ball during a March 30 game at Hunt, was named 3-A Big East Conference Co-Player of the Year after leading the Ladybirds to their third straight conference title.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash’s Taylor Bailey, shown making contact with the ball during a March 30 game at Hunt, was named 3-A Big East Conference Co-Player of the Year after leading the Ladybirds to their third straight conference title.

Kierstin Cooper of Southern Nash, shown looking at the catcher during a March 30 game against Hunt, was tabbed as the 3-A Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Kierstin Cooper of Southern Nash, shown looking at the catcher during a March 30 game against Hunt, was tabbed as the 3-A Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year.

Southern Nash’s Taylor Bailey, shown making contact with the ball during a March 30 game at Hunt, was named 3-A Big East Conference Co-Player of the Year after leading the Ladybirds to their third straight conference title.

Sheldon Vick | Special to The Enterprise

Southern Nash’s Taylor Bailey, shown making contact with the ball during a March 30 game at Hunt, was named 3-A Big East Conference Co-Player of the Year after leading the Ladybirds to their third straight conference title.

Southern Nash’s Taylor Bailey, shown making contact with the ball during a March 30 game at Hunt, was named 3-A Big East Conference Co-Player of the Year after leading the Ladybirds to their third straight conference title.
Kierstin Cooper of Southern Nash, shown looking at the catcher during a March 30 game against Hunt, was tabbed as the 3-A Big East Conference Pitcher of the Year.

jlewis@wilsontimes.com | 252-265-7807 | Twitter: @JimmyLewisWT

The mantle of leadership approached both Taylor Bailey of Southern Nash and Madison Mercer of Hunt during the recently completed 2021 3-A Big East Conference varsity softball season.

With the specter of online courses during the COVID-19 pandemic hampering the Lady Warriors’ eligibility, depth and numbers stood to be thin. On-field struggles were expected.

Nevertheless, Mercer accepted head coach Miguel Hall’s request to step into the pitching circle to supplement her blistering bat.

Over at Southern Nash, Bailey’s plight was a bit more cut and dried, but no less daunting. Playing in a program that won the last two contested regular-season titles, the onus was on Bailey at the top of the lineup to assume her own leadership mantle that the likes of Elisabeth Collie and Carrigan Ewers had ably carried.

Giving opposing defenses fits, she delivered. With the league’s six head coaches unable to come to a consensus, both Mercer and Bailey were left to share the Big East’s Player of the Year award following a split ballot.

PITCHER OF THE YEAR

In the pitching circle, Southern Nash senior Kierstin Cooper, who’s signed with Barton College, picked up the Big East’s Pitcher of the Year honor. Cooper, who had two no-hitters to her credit in 2021, had a 7-2 record with a 2.17 earned-run average. She struck out 93 and walked 43, allowing just 18 earned runs.

Southern Nash went 12-2 overall and won the league for the third time in a row, skipping over the pandemic-shortened year of 2020. Hunt was left with a 3-7 record, both overall and in conference play.

Bailey led everyday starters for the Ladybirds at the plate, posting a .471 average with 10 runs batted in from the leadoff role. Her blazing speed produced five triples and she added a home run.

“I was very shocked, honestly,” Bailey said of receiving the award. “But I’m very excited about it. I took it very serious. We had a lot of freshmen coming up, so me and the other seniors, we had to be a good influence and good teammates to win this season.”

Bailey’s imprint in the Southern Nash program was evident from her first plate appearance as a freshman. Facing SouthWest Edgecombe in the same leadoff spot, she reached safely, setting the tone for the next four years.

“She never really slowed down,” Southern Nash head coach Scott Collie said. “She played 69 career games, she had 107 hits. She just had a fabulous career, and it was very well deserved.”

As for Mercer, she wielded the biggest bat in the Hunt lineup. Pitchers struggled mightily against her, with Mercer hitting at a .567 clip to get the attention of three Big East coaches. She drove in 11 runs with six doubles.

“This girl is like no other,” Hall said of Mercer. “I call her my blue-collar worker. When you’ve got a player like this, Madison can play anywhere on the field and she’ll be successful. She goes all out, she doesn’t quit and gives it everything she’s got. I’m just proud of her.”

In the circle, Mercer, normally a middle infielder, threw 36 innings and led the Lady Warriors in strikeouts with 41.

“I kind of had to step up to something different than what I’ve been used to,” Mercer said, “I had to pitch, and I’m normally a middle infielder. To be honored as a pitcher, more than what I’m what I’m normally known for, which is my hitting, it’s an honor and it’s exciting for me.”

As Hunt’s numbers dwindled, Mercer become steadfast in her commitment.

“I told Toby (Hall) at the beginning of the year that I would do anything that he asked me to do,” Mercer said. And I was ready to step in that role and just be a big leader for my team and show them that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I just wanted to step up for my team and be there for them.”

ALL-CONFERENCE ROLLS

Regular-season champion Southern Nash was represented on the All-Big East team by junior Alexa Daniel, senior Ricki Bartley, senior Alissa Bailey and senior Anna Strickland.

Daniel hit .436 with nine RBIs, adding two doubles and two triples. Spelling Cooper in the circle, Daniel was a perfect 5-0 with a scant 0.72 ERA.

Bartley, who will also attend Barton for softball, hit .409 with 13 RBIs and rifled three triples.

Alissa Bailey connected at a .242 clip with three doubles as Strickland hit .293 and tallied seven RBIs.

Second-place Franklinton placed Sarah Fagan, Morgan Strickland, Noelle Faulkner and Courtney Sabatini.

Fike, which finished third at 5-6 overall and 5-5 in conference play, was represented by senior Lindsey Curlings, senior Caitlyn Graziani, junior Jada Lamm and senior Ashley Pendergrass.

Curlings hit at a .459 clip while driving in 10 runs. She tacked on three home runs, three triples and a pair of doubles.

Graziani contributed a .314 average with four runs batted in, while Lamm was 3-4 in the pitching circle with a 3.63 ERA over 46 ⅓ innings. Lamm struck out 78 and walked 32.

Pendergrass was stalwart on defense, turning in a .973 fielding percentage for the Lady Golden Demons. She recorded 103 putouts on 113 chances.

Fourth-place Rocky Mount fashioned an improved product by getting Caroline Joyner, Aysia Whitley and Winter Smith on the all-conference rolls.

In addition to Mercer, the fifth-place Lady Warriors also produced sophomore Allison Moore as an all-Big East pick. Moore hit a blistering .484 and drove in four runs while adding three doubles.

Northern Nash, situated in sixth, placed Elana Griffin as its lone representative.

Each team was entitled to one honorable mention selection, which went to Southern Nash’s Addison Brumfield, Franklinton’s Kyndal Hopkins, Skylar Summerlin of Fike, Rocky Mount’s Paris Evans, Hunt’s April Mattox and Northern Nash’s Logan Joyner.

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