Baylor has marched out a procession of superb centerfielders from Kelly Levesque to Harmony Schwethelm to Kathy Shelton.
But the Lady Bears never had a centerfielder who can cover as much ground, routinely make jaw dropping catches, and gun down baserunners with as much flair as Jessie Scroggins.
Scroggins became the first outfielder in Big 12 softball history to be named the league’s defensive player of the year. It’s an award that usually goes to catchers and shortstops, but Scroggins has played at such a high level that she was impossible to ignore.
“I would never compare the centerfielders we’ve had because we’ve had some great ones,” said Baylor coach Glenn Moore. “But I wouldn’t put any ahead of her the way she’s playing. She’s our first Big 12 defensive player of the year, and for an outfielder to get that recognition says enough right there.”
Scroggins’ defensive skills will be on display when the Lady Bears host an NCAA regional Friday through Sunday at Getterman Stadium. Earning the No. 15 national seed, Baylor will play Kent State in the first round at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
While Scroggins is one of the Lady Bears’ best hitters with a .370 average, her defensive abilities make her invaluable. Baylor’s pitchers look at the talented junior as a security blanket because she can track down balls that most outfielders wouldn’t have a prayer to haul in.
“It’s very comforting knowing she can run down any ball that gets in the outfield,” said Baylor pitcher Gia Rodoni. “She can take it from right field to left field. She’s all over the place and gets the best jumps on the ball. Her arm’s incredible. She always comes through.”
The Texas Longhorns learned to respect her arm when she gunned down Kelli Hanzel trying to score from second base on a single for the final out in the seventh to seal Baylor’s 2-1 dramatic win May 5 at Getterman Stadium.
While Scroggins enjoys chasing down long fly balls, there’s nothing quite like nailing a runner on the basepaths.
“It’s one of the best feelings,” Scroggins said. “Coaches like to test the outfield. Being able to throw runners out lets the other team know: Don’t run on me because you’re going to get out.”
Growing up in a family with two athletic brothers, it wasn’t hard for Scroggins to develop her competitive edge.
Older brother Jesse Scroggins Jr. was a high school All-American quarterback as a senior at Lakewood (Calif.) High School in 2009 before signing with USC.
“He was definitely a role model, I wanted to be just like him,” Jessie Scroggins said. “He went to Lakewood and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Jessie has a twin brother, Jerin Scroggins, who plays receiver for the University of Buffalo. Growing up in Southern California, they played on the same Little League baseball teams and flag football squads.
“She let him know she was older – by five or 10 minutes,” said her father, Jesse Scroggins. “She was always competitive and she was rough. She threw him around and he threw her around, but they always had a great relationship.”
Since both Jesse and his wife, Jeri, were in the Army, discipline was expected in their household. Jesse did everything he could to help his children achieve their athletic goals.
He built a batting cage on their property and had them walk on their hands to strengthen their arms. When she decided to focus on softball during junior high, they worked on every phase of her offensive game to improve her hitting skills.
“We went 100 percent, and I built the batting cage when she was 11 or 12,” Jesse said. “We developed her bunting game by drawing two circles – one on the third base side and the other on the second base side – and she had to put the bunt there. Then we developed her slap game because as she got older third basemen would come up close. Then we started working on her power.”
The relentless work paid off as Scroggins hit .458 during her four years at Lakewood High School. She also raised her skills by playing in the summers for the Corona Angels travel ball team that included Oklahoma Sooners Big 12 player of the year Shay Knighten.
“Our main tournaments were in California, but we’d travel to Colorado and Georgia,” Jessie said. “My softball IQ definitely went up.”
Jessie and twin brother Jerin were always close and still talk to each other on a regular basis. She even supported him when he decided to transfer from Lakewood to rival Cabrillo High School for his senior year.
“His friends were kind of upset at him about that,” Jessie said. “It was weird, don’t get me wrong. But I wore some Cabrillo gear – a sweater and sweats. And they beat Lakewood in football.”
Recruited heavily by softball programs across the country, Jessie chose Baylor even though it was far from her Southern California home.
“Coach Moore watched her for at least a year,” Jesse Scroggins said. “He was one of the last coaches to offer her but she felt so good about it. She’s my only daughter, and I just trusted him.”
Scroggins quickly became Baylor’s starting centerfielder as a freshman. Though she played exceptional defense from the start, she sometimes struggled at the plate and hit .261 in 2015.
But she raised her batting average nearly 100 points as a sophomore and hit .356 with six homers, 30 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. She’s raised her average to .370 this season with three homers, 20 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.
“This year, I’ve bunted more,” Scroggins said. “It’s more of a confidence thing. If you get your bunts down, it helps the team and they get excited. But I like to mix it up and keep the defense guessing, so I also like to swing away.”
The combination of dynamic offensive skills and superb defense has made Scroggins a fixture in Baylor’s lineup. But it’s those memorable catches that stand out the most.
“She knows she’s been given some God given talent and abilities, and she’s able to freely use them,” Moore said. “She loves to make the big, spectacular catch and she reads the ball off the bat very well. She can climb the wall or she can gun a runner out at the plate.”