Kaylee Vaught got a taste of what college softball is like this past spring.
Because of the COVID-10 (coronavirus) pandemic, it was more for an appetizer bite rather than a main course.
Vaught’s season was cut short in March when the NCAA canceled all of its spring sports. But in the 22 games in which she played, the former Pisgah standout grew more and more comfortable as the abbreviated season progressed.
“It was definitely a huge change, but it was also very exciting,” Vaught said of making the jump from the high school to collegiate level. “There’s more competition. Everyone is on the same level. You had to be your best every time you stepped on that field.”
Vaught enjoyed a decorated high school career in which she was a four-time first-team time all-state player, the 2019 Class 3A Player of the Year and the 2017 Class 3A Hitter of the Year. During her Pisgah career, she helped the Eagles win state championships in 2017 and 2019 and post a runner-up finish in 2016 while recording 288 hits, 56 home runs, 75 doubles, 10 triples, 220 RBIs and 244 runs scored from 2016-19. Vaught was also a member of Pisgah’s 2018 and 2019 Class 3A girls basketball state championship teams, earning all-state tournament honors in 2018.
“The thing about Vaught is she’s got ‘it,’” said UAH head softball coach Les Steudeman. “She’s got that ‘it’ factor you don’t know how to define or measure, but she has it. When the game’s on the line, she’s the kind of kid that wants to be up there (at the plate). Vaught is a winner. She comes from a (high school) program, a school, a town, that’s built on winning. I can’t teach that. She’s going to get to find a way to get it done because that’s what they do it up there.”
Vaught got plenty of attention from college softball coaches, but she committed to UAH early in the process. She never wavered on that commitment.
“I’m blessed to get to play (at UAH),” Vaught said. “It definitely feels like home.”
Vaught, an outfielder, made her UAH debut in the Chargers’ season-opening 12-9 win over Bellarmine on Jan. 31.
‘My first game, it was freezing,” Vaught said. “I didn’t start, but I went in (in the fifth inning) and I remember it being really exciting.”
Vaught flied out in her first collegiate at-bat before recording her first collegiate hit on a single to left field in the sixth inning.
Vaught played in 22 of UAH’s 23 games this spring, including making 20 starts. The left fielder batted .359 (23-for-64) with five doubles, one triple, five home runs, nine walks and 16 RBIs. She was second on the team in home runs and triples, tied for fourth in RBIs, fifth in doubles, tied for fifth in walks and sixth in batting average. In early March, Vaught was named Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Week after batting .444 while homering in each game of UAH’s series with conference rival West Alabama. She had five RBIs, four runs scored and posted a .583 on-base percentage during the series.
“Offensively, it’s a pretty big transition from high school to college. She’s been able to make adjustments,” Steudeman said of Vaught. “She was already making adjustments early in the year. That’s a tell-tale sign of a great hitter when you can have a bad at-bat, make adjustments and get immediate results.”
Vaught, who made the Gulf South Conference’s Spring Academic Honor Roll (3.20 GPA or higher while being a starter of significant contributor), will be a freshman again eligibility wise in 2021 after the NCAA announced that spring sports athletes not to lose a year of eligibility because of the pandemic.
“I was like you got a glimpse of what the next four years will look like,” Vaught said of the shortened season.
Steudeman saw Vaught’s abbreviated season as a warm-up act.
“She was in such a good place (when the season ended),” Steudeman said. “If she keeps building on that. There’s no doubt she’s on a trajectory to be one of the best ever. I’m really excited about the future for her.”