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When the 2021 NCAA Division II softball season begins, it will be 18 years since Barton College ended a season with a winning record.
Such a stretch requires a diligent search for winners at the high school level. In the case of fifth-year Barton head coach Junior Bailey, the resumes suggest he didn’t miss in that regard with the addition of Southern Nash High seniors Ricki Bartley and Kierstin Cooper.
Although the 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooper and Bartley are part of a Ladybirds program that has done little else except win versus 3-A Big East Conference competition. They’ll enter the 2021 season still in possession of the last two Big East regular-season championships and a 6-0 record before play was shut down last season.
Cooper is part of a Southern Nash program under the direction of head coach Scott Collie that has gone 45-10 since 2018. Bartley joined the fray following a freshman campaign at East Wake High.
As part of an eight-member signing class, both Cooper and Bartley officially signed their National Letters of Intent with their new teammates Wednesday afternoon on campus at Hardy Alumni Hall.
“We’ve been very fortunate the last few years,” Collie said. “We’ve had a lot of really good players and I’m very blessed to coach them. Kierstin and Ricki certainly fall into that category. They’re both excellent players. They are both very versatile. They can play multiple positions and I’m sure that’s a very attractive quality for college coaches. They’re just great kids and I’ve been very blessed to coach them.”
Bartley, a third baseman and outfielder with the Ladybirds, chose the Lady Bulldogs due to the communal feel.
“It’s the community,” Bartley said. “It’s very together as one. You’re not at home, but you’re still with family.”
Cooper, the daughter of Patrick Cooper of Momeyer, hit .591 in the abbreviated six-game span as a junior with six RBIs, two doubles, a triple and nine runs scored. In the circle, she was 2-0 in four appearances, striking out 25 and walking six.
“I came here with a really open mind and I fell in love with the campus,” Cooper said. “I fell in love with the girls that I met on the team and Coach Bailey, he really won me over with that. I feel like he’s a down-to-earth guy that would better me in my softball career.”
Bailey was able to be present for the signing due to the event taking place on the Barton campus. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from attending off-campus signings, but on-campus signing events aren’t subject to the same scrutiny.
Bartley, the daughter of Joshua Bartley and Tiffany Bruce Bartley of Spring Hope, connected at a .357 clip through six 2020 contests. She drove in four runs and doubled.
“Rickie really hits the ball well,” Bailey said. “She has a lot of hustle in her that’s impressive. I really like when she’s on the field, she’s very vocal. You can hear her all the time, whether she’s in the dugout or on the field or whatever and that’s important, because things go up and down as a ballplayer.”
Cooper alternated with senior Carrigan Ewers between the pitching circle and first base. Bailey assured that Cooper will get an opportunity to compete for innings entering the program.
“Kierstin is just solid all the way around,” he said. “She pitches well, but she plays defense well. She swings the bat well and is just a total package in a lot of ways.”
Now, the Ladybirds duo joins a “constellation of stars,” as Bailey put it, at Barton, where they will have the chance to turn the Lady Bulldogs into winners.
“I’ve known for a while that they had this ability,” Collie said. “And I’m just really happy that they’re close by and they’re going to get a chance to pursue their dream.”