Fans of the Southern Nash softball team might not know that Taylor Bailey doesn’t like to bat leadoff.

Bailey does a good job of hiding her jittery feelings, tumbling stomach and shortness of breath, symptoms of being thrust into the spotlight in the form of being the first to face an opposing pitcher.

“Honestly it’s not my favorite but I get used to it as the game goes on,” Bailey said of hitting at the top of the Firebirds lineup. “At the beginning of the game I get nervous and my stomach has butterflies. But once I get on base I feel like I can actually breathe again. Being leadoff you don’t want to mess up, or get out or strike out. You always want to get on base.”

While Bailey didn’t always get on base, she reached via her bat more than any other player in the area.

The Southern Nash sophomore and the Telegram’s 2019 softball batter of the year collected 43 hits, scored 23 runs and had 18 RBIs. She finished with a .524 batting average and struck out just three times in 92 plate appearances.

Bailey has played shortstop on varsity in each of her first two high school seasons. She improved on a standout freshman year where she finished year the top of every offensive category for the Firebirds.

She had 10 more hits this season in fewer plate appearances compared to her freshman year, and provided an ability to put the ball in play.

“Hitting has always been my strong point in softball,” Bailey said. “I play on a travel team so throughout the year just working on hitting more and more made me a little better. People ask me how I swing, and I really don't know. I just go up there and swing for the ball, and it just hits my bat and goes places.”

Southern Nash won the Big East Conference for the second time in as many seasons, and did so with a perfect 10-0 league record. Bailey had at least one hit in every game this season, including six multi-hit performances across 10 conference games.

Bailey credits her offensive breakthrough to her coach, Scott Collie. The Southern Nash coach saw potential in the young player when he called her up to the varsity squad. She batted leadoff and played shortstop in both seasons, a testament to Collie’s belief in the young player’s ability to contribute right away at the varsity level while gaining experience to hold down the position for four years.

“I couldn’t have done it without Coach pushing me,” Bailey said.

In a recent interview, Bailey talks about her approach to hitting, how to turn double plays and what it took to win a conference title in consecutive seasons as part of the Telegram’s All-Area series.

You had 10 more hits this year than you did last year, so how did you improve on what was already a great year?

Throughout the year I practice it at least twice a week, and the more practice I got the more mental I got with the game. I think that helped me out. Just see ball, hit ball basically.

What do you enjoy about softball where you can work on it year-round?

I enjoy it because it’s fun to play. I started playing when I was around 10, and it’s a lot of fun. Also, meeting new people and having teammates you can depend on throughout the whole season, and making new friendships through the game is what’s important.

Have you always played shortstop?

I used to play outfield in 10U, but when I went to a different travel team my coach put me at short and I’ve been there since then.

Do you like it better than the outfield?

Yeah, I like being on the infield and shortstop is like the captain of the infield. And I like to talk a lot and I get to do that on the infield. It’s just fun to me.

I was at a game this season and watched you turn a double play. I know that’s difficult in softball because the bases are short and kids are fast, so how do you pull that off?

You have to be quick. We work on it a lot at practice, and we work on where we put ourselves on the bases and how we angle our bodies. Once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t go away

Southern Nash won the (Big East) Conference two years in a row now. Was this year any different in terms of going for a repeat instead of playing for the first one?

Well, right out of the gate we were going for it. We try to do our best and win as a team, but this year was harder. We had to learn to deal with different issues because we wanted to go back-to-back and we had to have our ‘A’ game every single game. We had a huge target on our backs this year; Everyone wanted to beat us.

When you think back on this year, what are you going to remember?

The day we won conference. We had to play Franklinton and that was a tough game because we only won by one run. It was a really nerve-wracking game and it was the day before spring break, so we were focused on a break and we had to zone back in.

Honorable mention

Elizabeth Collie, Southern Nash

Anna Strickland, Southern Nash

Alissa Bailey, Southern Nash

Carrigan Ewers, Southern Nash

Hannah Evans, Northern Nash

Randi Griffin, Northern Nash

Nykeria Garvin, Rocky Mount High

Taylor Hobgood, SouthWest Edgecombe

Kacie Strickland, SouthWest Edgecombe

Raven Owens, SouthWest Edgecombe

Taylor Williams, Tarboro

Hailee Whitehurst, Tarboro

Nyla Guilford, Tarboro

Brenyia Lewis, Rocky Mount Prep

Logan Ayers, Faith Christian

Savannah Langley, Faith Christian

Christa Baines, Faith Christian

Elizabeth Winstead, Rocky Mount Academy

Katie Oliver, Rocky Mount Academy

Gabbi Stewart, Rocky Mount Academy

Mary Whitaker Jones, Rocky Mount Academy