Incoming senior infielder Kayla Baptista from Rhode Island—a place she admits some people don’t know “even exists”—is one of the top players in the East of any class and has played at the 18U age division for the last four years.
In this exclusive interview with Extra Inning Sports, Kayla talks about what it’s like to play for a team in the Northeast, the thousands of miles she willingly travels across the nation to get better (this week she’s in Colorado at Boulder IDT) and how her time with Dave Lotti’s Rhode Island Thunder program has helped her develop to where she had scholarship offers from over 10 DI programs nationwide.
Click HERE to read up on the new Rhode Island Thunder 14U team
Check out this fast-rising star who once was committed to an SEC powerhouse and made the decision to open up her recruiting again before committing to an ACC school a little over a month ago…
NAME: KAYLA BAPTISTA
Hometown/State: Smithfield, Rhode Island
Grad Year: 2020
Club Team: Rhode Island Thunder Gold 18U - Lotti
High School (City/State): La Salle Academy (Providence, Rhode Island
College: North Carolina
• Starter on Dave Lotti’s RI Thunder Gold 18U team since 8th grade
• Over 10 Division 1 offers
• Junior year: batting leadoff, finished with .688 average; walk-to-strikeout ratio 14:2; 34-for-34 on stolen bases
• Two-time 1st Team All-State
• Two-time 1st Team All-Division
• Gatorade Player of the Year Nominee
• Varsity softball starter and track and field runner since freshman year
Other Sports: Soccer and Track
Other Universities (strongly) Considered: Duke and Stanford
Preferred College Major: Sports Analytics with minor in coaching
Being from Rhode Island, what’s the biggest misconception others have about your home state?
The biggest misconception has to be that people don’t know that Rhode Island even exists or that they think we are a part of New York’s “Long Island.”
You do have to travel a lot to go to out-of-state to play in events. Does that get tiring?
We have to travel out of New England in order to face the best competition. We train and practice year-round in order to prepare for our tough schedules so we know what we have coming in terms of traveling and competition and we are prepared very well for it. For me, I love traveling and playing softball against the best, so it doesn’t really get tiring. Sometimes, though, I do get a little homesick!
What’s been your favorite place you’ve visited as part of your travel ball tournaments?
It’s really hard to choose between Huntington Beach, California for PGF Nationals and Boulder, Colorado for the Boulder IDT tournament. I’ve enjoyed both of those tournaments for the past three years. The combination of great competition, scenery, activities, and overall experience is unmatched.
You’ve been with the Thunder for four years now. How has being with Dave Lotti’s organization helped develop your skills?
Yes, I’ve been with Dave’s 18U team since the 8th grade and I cannot imagine what my softball skills would be like without him, Elise Fortier and the entire Thunder organization. Being a part of Dave’s team and staff has developed my skills and softball IQ through the roof.
We spend over four hours, each practice, focusing on defense and base running. Each practice instills correct fundamentals and focus on the tiniest of details in everything we do. Some of my friends who play softball for different organizations think I’m crazy when I say that, but I always respond that we could keep on going for hours!
These four-plus hour practices are not easy. Our blood, (a lot of) sweat, and sometimes tears (that we can’t let Dave see!) pour out on our field. That is why we are an extremely tough team. We always think about the California teams who have year-round to play with their consistently competitive schedules so we say to ourselves, if we aren’t going to be the biggest, strongest and most talented team in the country then we can most certainly be the toughest, smartest and hardest-working team in the country.
The “Thunder Way” has always been centered around that and I firmly believe it is 100 percent true. The Thunder organization has prepared me extremely well for the next level mentally, physically and emotionally.
Walk us through your recruiting journey… you were committed to Tennessee at one time and are now committed to North Carolina… what was it like to go through the recruiting process all over again and what did you learn from it all?