When Sarah Smith looks at the walls surrounding Baylor’s batting cages, she sees blown-up prints of Baylor all-America players Brette Reagan, Ashley Monceaux and Chelsi Lake.
Smith wants to be up there someday.
“I want to have my Fathead up on the wall,” Smith said. “I want to win a national championship this year and I hope to be an All-American all four years.”
For most players such goals would be a pipe dream, but not for a freshman with her hitting ability and confidence that shines through in any situation.
Smith has bashed college softball pitchers more effectively than most four-year players. Batting in No. 16 Baylor’s cleanup spot, the third baseman is hitting .381 with a team-high five homers while collecting 23 RBIs.
“She’s mature beyond her years and is a very intelligent hitter,” Baylor coach Glenn Moore said. “She probably reads pitchers better than 90 percent of the hitters I’ve had as a freshman. She’s got good power and is a tough out.”
Moore has coached players who have worn their passion on their sleeve, such as Reagan and senior centerfielder Kathy Shelton. But Smith is more of a quiet, focused hitter who goes to the plate with a plan and often executes it.
“I’ve always wanted to see a little more passion and excitement and a sense of urgency out of these players,” Moore said. “But her calm demeanor and being mentally in tune with the game, and never being too high or too low are probably her biggest assets.”
Smith has tremendous hand-eye coordination that allows her to hit the ball to all fields. She developed her batting skills by hitting for endless hours with her father and facing all types of pitchers on her travel teams.
Smith began playing recreational softball when she was 8 and joined
more competitive leagues a few years later. Her father, Toney Smith, took her to nearby batting cages for extra work before constructing one in their backyard in Cerritos, Calif.
“We spent a lot of money taking her to batting cages, so we decided to put one in the backyard,” Toney Smith said. “We got a pitching machine and she’d go back there and work three to four nights a week. That batting cage was a great help and she began hitting the ball hard. A couple went through the net because she hit them so hard.”
Though Smith liked to play basketball as a kid, softball became her passion. She was a starting outfielder for the Cerritos High School team and played during the summers on traveling teams.
When her traveling team came to Texas for a tournament, Smith and her teammates got a chance to practice at the Baylor softball facilities. Smith didn’t know much about Baylor except that it had a powerful women’s basketball program, but soon learned more about the school and the softball program.
“Baylor was interested in me a long time before I even knew,” Smith said. “I liked the atmosphere and the family feel and the Christian heritage of the school. When you added the softball facilities and the coaches, I just loved it.”
By her senior year, Smith was drawing interest from premier softball programs across the country, including Alabama, Auburn and UCLA. When she chose Baylor, Moore was thrilled to land such a highly recruited player.
“She’s a phenomenal hitter and it was a tough recruiting battle for her,” Moore said. “We always said if we can get a kid to campus, we can go head to head with anybody. She had attracted a lot of big teams and to be able to sign an athlete like her was a big one.”
With third baseman Megan Turk completing her eligibility last season, Moore needed someone to step in at third base. Though Smith had never played the position, Moore thought she was a versatile enough athlete to give her a shot.
When Smith struggled in fall practice, Moore thought he might have to change his plans. But after she went back to California for Christmas break, she worked on her infield skills and came back much more polished.
Though it has been a tough task following Turk at third base, Smith has continued to grow at her new position.
“We asked her to play a position she had never played out of necessity,” Moore said. “I think I had unrealistic expectations after having Megan Turk and Brette Reagan there. It’s not even fair to measure a freshman who hadn’t played the position against those two. When she came back, she really took control of that position. She was a whole different third baseman.”
But Smith’s bat is the main reason she’s in Baylor’s lineup as a freshman. She started the season on fire as was hitting well over .400. Though a back injury slowed her down for a while, she’s fought back and is feeling healthy again.
Hitting is so instinctive to Smith that she doesn’t have to scrutinize every swing.
“A lot of it is God-given ability,” Smith said. “A lot of it is see the ball, hit the ball. I’m just doing the same things I’ve always done.”
Smith admits that she misses California. Cerritos is just south of Los Angeles, so Smith was never from far from the beach while the weather was often ideal. But Smith is comfortable at her new home, and Moore believes she can become one of the best to wear a Baylor uniform.
“I’m pretty excited that she can be on our all-American wall one day,” Moore said.