Female Athlete of the Week: Sherando freshman Baird makes impact

River Baird

STEPHENS CITY – River Baird has turned the boos into cheers.

The Sherando freshman pitcher said that when she first started pitching, in elementary school, she would sometimes get booed because of how she performed. Years later, she’s hearing anything but boos from fans as she helped lead Sherando’s softball team to a solid season.

“People don’t boo anymore. I’m very happy about that,” Baird said.

Baird said that part of her success through the years came from throwing with her dad.

“We pitched like 100 pitches outside every day,” Baird said. “It was the worst thing ever, but my dad was like, hey you’re getting better as every day goes by. It was very hard.”

One thing that has always come easily for Baird has been hitting, and last week she showed how clutch and good she can be at the plate.

Baird hit a grand slam in the sixth inning with the Warriors trailing, 4-2, to give Sherando a 6-4 victory over rival James Wood.

“I knew (my teammates) were leaning on me. I was like, ‘They need me here,'” Baird said. “The pitch was straight down the middle, and I was like, ‘Just hit it,’ and it just went over. I was in shock.”

Baird’s grand slam and win in the circle against James Wood helped earn her The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for the week of May 16-22.

Sherando coach Clarence Smith said he wasn’t surprised she hit the homer, which was her third of the season.

“I think it was one of those things where we were making the pitcher work,” Smith said. “River’s the kind of girl where if you make a mistake she can make you pay. She was fortunate she got a ball over the middle of the plate that she could handle, and I think it sort of flattened out on the pitcher and then River deposited it over the fence.”

Baird said that being a pitcher helps her a lot at the plate. She leads the area in batting average at .568 (21 for 67). She is tied for the lead in home runs (3) and has an-area best eight doubles. She also has three triples, 15 RBIs and 14 runs scored.

Sherando coach Clarence Smith said that he was aware of Baird’s pitching abilities but didn’t realize how good she was at the plate until she came to this season.

“We had heard some stories about her travel ball success and that she could hit the ball hard, and sometimes those things don’t always equate to level of play,” Smith said. “We put her in some positions early on to help her be successful – some less pressure spots. She grabbed a hold of those things and those opportunities and has been steadily climbing ever since.”

Baird was expected to go to Handley High School, but because her mother works at Sherando she was able to go to Sherando instead. Smith said that she struck out 26 batters in two games against Sherando last year, while playing for Handley’s junior varsity team.

She was 3-3 this season in the circle, and has been splitting time with teammate Marissa Webb for the Warriors.

Smith said that her pitching is getting better and will only keep improving. He said she’s trying to develop another pitch besides her fastball.

“She’s been working extremely hard, working on a changeup,” Smith said. “We’ve changed the grip from where she was earlier in the season. She had some issues with developing blisters with the knuckle-change she was trying to throw. So she’s learning a new pitch. Sometimes that can be frustrating, but to her credit she comes in every day and she’s ready to put in work.”

The Warriors’ season came to an end on Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to James Wood, just one victory shy of a regional berth.

This season Baird showed a knack for being clutch for the Warriors, even from the No. 6 spot in the batting order.

“She, like several of our other players in that spot, even though she’s young she seems to perform better when it requires all of her focus,” Smith said. “When she feels like everyone is there, and all eyes are on her, she seems to want to answer that bell a little bit better. … Right now were trying to teach River how to bring her ‘A’ game every game, and if she does that she’s going to be very dangerous.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com