App State softball captain Morton helps lead program from behind the plate

App+State+senior+catcher+Baylee+Morton+%28right%29+visits+with+senior+pitcher+Sydney+Holland+on+the+mound+during+Saturday%27s+3-1+win+over+Radford+in+Boone.+Since+her+freshman+year%2C+Morton+has+been+a+key+component+of+the+turnaround+of+the+softball+program.+

Becca Bridges

App State senior catcher Baylee Morton (right) visits with senior pitcher Sydney Holland on the mound during Saturday’s 3-1 win over Radford in Boone. Since her freshman year, Morton has been a key component of the turnaround of the softball program.

Cameron Burnett, Senior Reporter

After the 2017 softball season, App State went through a head coaching change, bringing in Shelly Hoerner along with a group of freshman players looking to turn the program around after a 14-34 season. 

One of those freshmen was catcher Baylee Morton, a Monroe, N.C. native who was coming to win. From the beginning of her career, she developed a connection with  Hoerner and made an immediate impact on the program as a defensive anchor and leader.

“Coach Hoerner, she was actually a catcher too,” Morton said. “We can talk through different things, and (work in bullpens together) when getting to know all my pitchers.”

Morton threw out 15 runners in her freshman season, leading the Sun Belt in the category while starting in 44 of 48 games. As a freshman starter, she grew into a leadership role early, which paid dividends for her down the road when connecting to her team from behind the plate, especially with her pitchers.

As a true freshman, Morton led the Sun Belt with 15 runners thrown out from behind the plate. This year, she’s already gunned down seven runners, good for third in the conference, trailing the tie for first and second place by just one. (Becca Bridges)

“Getting to know (the pitchers) is super important in how they work on the field and off the field,” Morton said.

When the Parkwood product came to App State, she became a first-generation college student. Beyond playing softball, this school meant everything to her from the moment she stepped on campus. Being the defensive leader, she became close with her teammates quickly both on and off the field.

“Being able to come here and play softball while also getting an education here is awesome,” Morton said. “This team has become my best friends, they’re my sisters and they’re pretty much the only people I hang out with.”

After a strong freshman year individually, Morton was part of a shift in the program, starting all 53 games in 2019. The Mountaineers finished with their first winning record since 2013, going 31-25 during the season. Morton also showed out as a hitter, breaking the program record for home runs in a game with three against UT-Arlington. In just her second season, Morton was part of a groundbreaking time for the program.

“We just click… she’s got a lot of humor and I think that brings light to our program,” Hoerner said. “When we first started here, the program was not as strong as we wanted it to be, so when times were tough, there was always some light she brought and shed on the team.”

After another stellar season in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short, Morton came into the 2021 season red hot at the plate, not just behind it. Morton is second in home runs in the Sun Belt with seven through 21 games while batting at .250 as the power hitter in the three-hole of the lineup.

“She trusted the process, it’s been a long process for her and it’s been a lot of frustration. She’s a big hitter, so she’s also going to strike out a lot, but she’s also going to hit a lot of home runs,” Hoerner said. “She’s also shortened her swing up a little bit so it’s not just all power… it’s been gradual and confidence is key.”

Morton leads the Sun Belt with 23 walks and is tied for second with seven home runs out of the three-hole spot in the batting order for the Mountaineers this season. (Becca Bridges)

For Morton, the softball program as well as App State as a whole has been a life-changer, and their success on the field is just a small part of that. The community in Boone has connected with her and made it her home, not just her school.

 

“App has really given me a different platform than I ever would’ve known existed. I love the community of Boone, it’s just a really cool small college town. Everybody supports everybody here, so I think it’s just a great experience to be here and be surrounded by so many different important people in the community,” Morton said.

With a potential extra year for the senior leader on the horizon, she’s focused on right now and finishing this season the right way, leading to some more wins along the way. 

“For myself, my goals are to continue to make an impact on and off the field. Our goal as a team is always to win and put up a pretty big run in the postseason,” Morton said.

The Mountaineers are currently 16-10 on the season as Sun Belt conference play has started off. Morton will be competing to be the home run leader in the conference as the season continues.