Cox leading through example

Published 8:35 pm Sunday, April 22, 2012

Change is difficult, but one vital change for the unspoken leader of the Escambia County Lady Blue Devils softball team has helped put the team in contention for an area title.

Escambia County Lady Blue Devil Kaylee Cox has thrived in her new position by helping lead her softball team to a 12-8 record this season.

Freshman Kaylee Cox started at third base as an eighth grader, but made the move to pitcher this season as a freshman.

The change in positions came straight from the top with ECHS Head Softball Coach Darryl Otwell seeing Cox’s potential to lead the team from the mound.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Making the move came with apprehension, but knowing that she was the right player for the job made it easier for the second-year softball coach.

“It’s a tough transition,” Otwell said. “In fastpitch softball, pitchers dominate the game. Last year, we lost a lot of games due to pitching. It wasn’t that we didn’t have a good pitcher, but we just had to deal with a lot of walks. This year, I broke down the team, and Kaylee fit the role of our pitcher. She has that never quit mentality.”

Settling into pitching was not difficult for Cox because she had experience there from eighth grade, as well as playing in the city league.

The difficulties came with the pressure of controlling so much of the outcome of games and moving from a position she has fun playing.

“I’ve pitched all my life, but third is a position that I enjoy playing,” she said. “I like pitching, and I wouldn’t trade doing it for anything because I feel like I hold up the team well. It is tough because I have more pressure on myself because I feel like the game is on my shoulders.”

The pressures have come and go throughout the season for Cox, who led the Lady Devils to a 12-8 regular season record and a No. 3 seed in the Class 4A Area 1 tournament.

Her pitching also helped ECHS attain a No. 7 ranking in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll after the team achieved an 8-0 start to the season.

With that success came more pressure, especially in high stakes games against Saraland and UMS-Wright. In four games against those two opponents, ECHS finished 1-4 earning an 8-6 upset on the road at Saraland. The win came after a 15-0 loss to UMS-Wright and an 8-0 loss to Saraland in the teams’ first meeting.

Overcoming the Lady Devils’ two worst losses of the season was something Cox knew her team could do.

“I knew it was a matter of time before we could beat and compete with those teams,” Cox said. “We just had to let the losses go. We were able to beat Saraland and put up a good fight against UMS-Wright by putting those things behind us and just focusing.”

Beating the pressure is not an easy thing, but by letting it go can help pull a team out of slump, Cox said.

“You have let things go,” she said. “Things have to roll off your back easily, so it doesn’t get you down. When the bases get loaded and you have to find the outs, you feel like it’s up to you,” she said. “There is a feeling that the team is looking to you to get those outs and finish the inning.”

In the loss to Saraland on March 27 is when Cox found a moment to shine in the face of adversity. With the game still close, Cox went to field a hit during the contest when she collided with her short stop, Tristen Boothe. In the collision, no one knew it, but the pitcher had suffered a concussion. After the collision, she finished the game and earned five strikeouts in the process.

The injury left her dazed and unaware of the result of the game, but Cox said her team helped her get through the final innings.

“I was ready to play the next day,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I wanted to play. I just pushed through it. I don’t remember the game, and I found out the day after that we had lost. They told me I did well, and I was glad I had my team there to support me and help me finish the game.”

That type of fight in a player is why Otwell is not afraid to call Cox the leader of the team.

Her performance is something that pushes her teammates for more each game, he said.

“She is a tremendous leader,” Otwell said. “She works her tail off and leads by example. She picks up her teammates, but she is the type of player that supports her teammates with her performance because they will follow her.”