By Kasey Kaler
Arizona State University outfielder Bailey Wigness watches in silence as the opposing coach and infield huddle in the pitching circle, tossing glances her way, discussing how to get her out.
Not many can, however.
The slapper takes ball one in the dirt, ball two comes up and in, spinning Wigness out of the box. The third pitch is one she likes and she promptly slaps the ball into the ground in front of the shortstop who has to make an off-balance throw that comes too late.
It would have taken a perfect throw to get the lightning-fast Wigness, one that most have trouble making.
The scenario above is not an uncommon sight at a Sun Devil softball game and one that opponents will have plenty of trouble having to deal with during the upcoming 2014 campaign.
“What do we do about Number Two?” will be a popular question at many opponent scouting sessions.
“Bailey has the ability to slow everything down and focus on the task at hand. If we need someone to get an inning started off for us, she understands that,” said Sun Devil pitching coach Chuck D’Arcy. “If we need someone to be a leader and set a precedent for the 23 other girls, or if we need someone to motivate the other girls to be great in the classroom alongside her, Bailey is that girl.”
While excellence is expected on the field for senior Wigness, brilliance is demanded off the field.
“She’s the epitome of a student-athlete, she is the ultimate competitor and in the classroom she aims for perfection and pushes others to do so as well,” said junior Bethany Kemp. “Her work ethic and energy is contagious to all of us.”
On May 31, Wigness - who is double majoring in political science and communications - was awarded the Elite 89 Award, which is given to a student-athlete who maintains the highest cumulative grade point average of any postseason-eligible athlete in Division I softball.
“We had no idea that I was even up for the award, I only had a 4.0 GPA and the person who usually wins it will have a 4.2 or something like that, so when they announced my name at the banquet, I was shocked,” Wigness said.
The two-year starter has garnered numerous other academic trophies in her career, being named to the Pac-12’s All Academic First Team, the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team and, in 2013, the First Team CoSIDA Academic All-American Team.
CoSIDA, the College Sports Information Directors of America, is a group of approximately 2,900 members that nominate and vote for the selection in either the All-American Team or All-District Team in 12 sports including softball. The Academic All‐District teams are divided into eight geographic districts across the United States and Canada.
“I’m not the type of person who wants attention, there are those who thrive in and want attention on them and I’m not that type of person,” Wigness said. “But, it was really nice to be recognized for working hard off the field too.”
Wigness maintains that focus and dedication are the keys to her success on and off the field.
“One of the first things Coach [Former ASU softball Coach Myers] ever said to me was, ‘Greatness is a way of life.’ and I took that to heart,” she said. “With everything I do, I try to be great. If I’m writing an essay or studying for a test, I try to focus solely on that task,”
“Even in my friendships, I want to give my best.”
That attitude is something ASU Volunteer Assistant Coach Katie Schroeder says is what makes her the type of person every coach wants to have.
“Bailey is the type of person who you want to have on your team,” Shroeder said. “She brings 110 percent to everything she does, even in the weight room.”
Schroeder explained that while some athletes get away with only giving their best in big moments, Wigness is the rare athlete who gives everything she has when she steps on to the field and in every facet of her life.
It’s that type of deep-rooted mentality that has made ASU softball into the powerhouse it is.
When you think of ASU softball, prolific names like Kaitlin Cochran, Lesley Rogers and Annie Lockwood come to mind, players that were not only successful on the field but in academics as well, all three being named to at least one Pac-12 Academic team.
“She really is the quintessential student-athlete and ASU softball player. She embodies everything we want to be here at Arizona State. We want to beat you on the field and off the field,” D’Arcy said.
While Wigness maintains her 4.0 GPA, her contributions on the field are not to be ignored either. In three years, Wigness owns a career-average of .388 while scoring 100 runs as one of the fastest slappers in the game.
“That speed makes her so dangerous, it’s game-changing, we saw it on-display during our fall season,” Shroeder said. “She is definitely one of the fastest in the Pac-12, if not in the game.”
In softball, a slapper is a speedy left-handed batter that moves in the batter’s box towards the ball in an effort to pound the ball into the ground and utilize speed to get on base.
Slapping is something that requires much more cadence as opposed to hitting away.
“Other hitters have to focus on their hands and legs and timing but slapping requires much more dedication to timing,” Wigness said. “I can’t get away with my hands moving faster than my feet or my head, everything has to be in-sync.”
Wigness has been in-sync from day one.
After being utilized as a pinch runner for the eventual Women’s College World Series Champions as a freshman in 2011, Wigness broke out in her sophomore year, leading the team with a .396 average while scoring 41 runs.
In a lineup that boasts eight different hitters who are capable of hitting one out of the park, Wigness provides a different kind of spark for the potent lineup.
“Even from the nine spot in our lineup she’s so dangerous and competitive. She goes up to the plate believing that no matter what she is going to get on [base],” Kempe said. “That kind of attitude is infectious and something that allows us to turn the lineup over and get big offensive rallies started.”
Now a senior, Wigness learned her role early on in her Sun Devil career: “My job is to get on-base so others behind me can drive me in. So that’s what I focus on doing.”
Teammates and coaches agree that her speed paired with her extensive softball intelligence is what makes Wigness perilous and consistently effective.
“She has this unique ability to not only pound the ball into the ground, but if you are going to play your outfield in, she’s going to hit it over their heads and run for days,” Schroeder said. “You have to game plan for her speed or she will make you pay.”
As a senior, the slapper has taken on a leadership role for younger players. This is especially true for sophomore Jenn Soria who has transitioned from first base to outfield this season.
“Bailey has been an awesome mentor to me so far, she has helped ease me into the outfield,” Soria said. “She’s always there when I have a question about angles or cut-offs and she’s the first one to pick me up when I am down.”
Those attributes are expected to help lead a team that has championship expectations for their 2014 season.
Wigness is accompanied by four other starting seniors: the prolific pitching duo of Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue, as well as All-Americans Alix Johnson, Amber Freeman and Cheyenne Coyle, all of whom hope to bring home the team’s third national championship in seven seasons.
“We all want to bring home that trophy, for ourselves. In 2011, it was nice to be a part of a truly great team but it was about the Mandy Urfers and Krista Donnenwirths, now it’s about us,” Wigness said, “I expect to win, everything we’ve worked for these last four years comes down to this.”
While Wigness is focused on finals week and the upcoming season, the senior cannot help but look towards the future after softball season ends.
“I won’t be done with school after this year, I plan on getting my master’s and hopefully getting a teaching job and coaching down the road.”
When asked what her dream coaching job would be, Wigness didn’t hesitate and answered with a smile.
When the 2014 season opens in February, ASU softball will find itself ranked amongst the best teams in the country, but with Wigness and four other seniors leading the way, the 2014 season could be a memorable one for them.