By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Ava Ratliff, just like her lightning-fast swing, quickly pulled the trigger.
After only four official visits to college programs, Bedford North Lawrence’s coveted superstar catcher verbally committed to the University of South Carolina on Tuesday night. Ratliff, twice named the national high school Catcher of the Year by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, made a fast choice following other visits to Indiana, Kentucky and Northwestern.
South Carolina’s program won her heart. And the Gamecocks won the contest for her thunderous bat.
“When I was there, I knew,” Ratliff said. “I had a feeling, that’s where I wanted to go.
“It’s a relief. Now when I play, I can just go out and play for fun again, instead of worrying about trying to please coaches who are watching. It was kind of stressful at times, a lot to take in. But it was a cool experience.
“The one thing I was nervous about was the distance aspect. But I talked with some of the players, and they said they’re so busy all the time, they don’t have time to think about being homesick.”
Ratliff powered the Stars to an 24-8 record last season while slugging 22 home runs, hitting .538 and driving in 53 runs. She set school records for home runs, hits (57), doubles (16) and RBIs. That was quite the impressive encore to her freshman season, when she hit .538 with 21 home runs and 53 RBIs. She is set to break the state record for career home runs (50), with two seasons yet to play.
South Carolina went 40-22 last season, advancing to the Southeastern Conference tournament final (falling to top-seeded Tennessee), then battling to the regional final against No.3 Florida State in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Beverly Smith has guided the Gamecocks to eight appearances in the NCAA postseason.
Ratliff’s focus will now shift to her junior season with the Stars. She plans to major in the medical field.
“I’m so happy for her,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “It’s always a tough, stressful decision, and I am sure that Ava and her parents are relieved and excited that Ava has found her future school.”
“I’m just going to play with my teammates,” Ratliff said. “All I look forward to now is having fun. I don’t have to worry about the rest of it. I’ll still work hard and do all the rest of the things I’ve been doing. I’m a very competitive person. When I play softball, it’s like my break from reality. I can do my thing that I love to do. I work hard and just love to do it.”