Without hesitation, she started Smart in the outfield as a seventh grader, and while her positions have changed from the outfield to third base to shortstop through the years, one thing hasn’t: Smart’s determination to be the best softball player she can be.
On Tuesday, Smart realized her dream of playing college softball. She signed a scholarship with Southern Union Community College at the Spring Garden School library.
“It’s been a goal of mine for years to go to another level,” said Smart, now a senior shortstop for the Lady Panthers. “I’m just blown away that I’m able to go to the next level. I want to thank (Southern Union) Coach (Brian) Pittman for wanting me and taking me. I’m excited about this new journey.”
So, too, is Pittman.
Pittman said he’s had Smart on his radar for quite some time, and he’s thrilled to be getting a player of Smart’s caliber. Last season, Smart batted .583 with 13 doubles, eight triples, three home runs, 15 walks, 46 runs and 39 RBIs for the Lady Panthers (23-14), who earned a berth in the North Regional Tournament in Huntsville.
“She’s an excellent ball player, and we’re fortunate to get her,” Pittman said. “She is a four-year type player, and there’s no doubt in my mind about that. I feel like she is an immediate impact player for us coming in. We expect her to step right in and get in the middle of our lineup.”
One thing that stands out to Welsh about Smart is the time and effort off the field she puts into softball.
“I know she’s had that dream to play, and when you have that dream come true, it’s a wonderful thing,” Welsh said. “As a seventh grader, it doesn’t happen much that you have one that you feel very confident in putting in as a starter, but she’s always been that way. She’s grown mentally. She’s a great leader. She’s vocal in a positive way. She keeps people up. She’s a leader on and off the field with the way she carries herself. She’s the total package, and you don’t always have that.
“I’m just proud she’s been able to find a place that she feels like is a second home to her.”
Smart said she wanted to continue playing in a small-town atmosphere where she’s most comfortable. That was one of the major attractions Southern Union, which is located in Wadley, Ala., had to offer.
“It’s small and it reminded me of my hometown. I really liked it,” Smart said. “The coaches and the players were super-nice. The campus is wonderful.”
Pittman said Smart “fit right in” when he had Smart come down for a workout with the Lady Bison.
“She’s definitely someone who can come in and compete right off the bat,” he said. “I was really pleased with her. I liked everything about her, but more than anything else is she’s a good person and a good student off the field too.”
Smart said Tuesday’s signing was bittersweet moment for her. She realizes her high school career will soon be coming to an end, but she’s excited to see what challenges Southern Union will bring.
“I’ll be so sad leaving Spring Garden because I’ve been here since I was little,” Smart said. “It’ll be different going to the college level and leaving Spring Garden, but I hope to make the best of it.”