Scholarship in hand, Baker eyes season
Two years ago, William Jewell College softball coach Eddie Hornback and his Cardinal softball team were riding high after ending the 2002 season ranked as the 21st best team in the nation.
But soon after, Hornback was called into double duty as the volleyball coach and the softball program lost a little bit of its edge.
After struggling through a couple of so-so seasons, Hornback was more than happy to announce that the 2003 William Jewell volleyball season was his final at the helm.
Now Hornback begins the rebuilding process for the softball team.
He seeks to get his team back to the high level it once played when he concentrated solely on softball.
A major piece of that climb back to the top will start with the Cardinal pitching staff as it loses a couple of ace pitchers to graduation. In his summer search for talented replacements, Hornback discovered De Soto High School's Emily Baker.
"I loved her work ethic and attitude on the mound," Hornback said. "She is the hard-nosed kind of kid that I want pitching for me, and she has a lot of hustle to go along with it."
He described her as a diamond in the rough.
"We were looking for a pitcher and felt she was one of the best in the region," he said. "Luckily for us she was interested in us as well."
Hornback, who is in his eighth season as the softball coach at the Liberty (Mo.) liberal arts school and has the Cardinals off to an 8-1 start this season, is not sure yet where Baker fits into the equation. But he predicted the Wildcat senior would have a successful career playing for William Jewell.
Baker was just as appreciative of the opportunity Hornback offered her. But had it not been for her summer coaches, Greg Harrelson and Gary Hines, she might not even be looking to extend her playing career.
"My summer coaches saw how competitive I am and mentioned the idea of playing somewhere in college to me," she said. "Then I thought. 'Well if it could help pay for my college, why not?'"
With her mind made up and the papers signed, Baker has already enrolled in her classes for next fall. She hoped making those important decisions early will help her concentrate on her senior season.
"It's a big relief," she said. "I was getting kind of tired of talking to coaches every night on the phone. There was a lot of stress."
After a below .500 Wildcat campaign in 2003, Baker doesn't have a goal set for a certain number of wins. She just wanted to be competitive with every team she played.
"I want to play in a lot of close games and hopefully win those close games," she said. "We are improving. With the group of underclassmen we have playing this year, I think we'll be much more competitive than we have in the past."
The right-handed pitcher has earned three letters going into her final high school season.
After 18 games last season, Baker was carrying a 2.90 earned run average and struck out 54 batters in 81 innings of action. She faced 421 of the 592 opposing batters who came to the plate against the Wildcats last season.
Baker walked just 42 batters and limited opposing batters to a .247 batting average. Of the 104 hits she gave up, Baker allowed just 20 extra base hits.
Her game doesn't stop on the mound. Baker committed just two errors through 18 games last season and completed 24 assists on defense while putting out seven base runners on her own.
On offense, Baker had a .218 batting average and wound up with a .375 on-base percentage. She reached base safely 21 times and scored eight runs.
This is all good news for Hornback. Any time pitchers can help the team in another area they give themselves a chance for even more playing time.
"It's just gravy if they can get the job done offensively," he said. "It more than likely will give them more opportunities to get on the field."