By Tony Burns
Smackover senior Lexi Gilbert admitted she wasn’t sure if her dream of playing softball in college was realistic. But, sometimes dreams really do come true.
Gilbert announced she will continue her softball career at North Arkansas College, a junior college located in Harrison.
“I’ve always wanted to play college softball. Over the past few years, I was kind of shaky on it. But, over the past year my dad really got me into it. He was sending my stats to coaches and we started to hear from colleges. That’s when it started to seem real,” said Gilbert, who said she received interest from other schools, as well.
“I had some other offers from different schools. I visited schools before North Ark. But, in the end, you know school is so expensive and I can get just as good of an education there as anywhere else. There are lot of good opportunities there and that’s how I made my final decision.”
A four-year starter at catcher, Gilbert batted .447 this season with four home runs and 41 RBI for the Lady Bucks, who won the conference title and advanced to the 3A State Tournament. Last year’s News-Times Defensive Player of the Year will take a glove to Harrison along with her bat.
“I think she’ll be very good,” said Smackover coach Dennis Steele. “She’s a strong girl. She lifts weights. She works out religiously and she’s always trying to get better on little things - blocking balls. Just like this year, she’d come in at six in the morning and go through blocking drills and go through catching drills. I think she really has what it takes to play at the next level. She will be able to play at the next level.”
Gilbert, also an All-State performer in golf, said she plans to study nursing. She liked what she saw of the Harrison campus.
“We went and visited back in January. I talked with the coach and I practiced with the team. The coach was super nice. She was super sweet. She just wants the best out of players,” said Gilbert, who won’t commit to playing after the next two years.
“As of right now I plan on stopping. But, if an opportunity comes or if something does change, I would love to go to a bigger school and play.”
The Lady Pioneers struggled through a 4-37 season. Three of the five catchers listed on the roster were sophomores.
“I know they’ve had a tough year. But, I know the coach is super excited. She’s looking forward to next year,” said Gilbert, who reflected on her high school career.
“These past four years has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’m fortunate to be able to play for Smackover High School. My first year I got to play for Coach (Mike) Poff. That was great. He taught me a lot. My sophomore year, we got Coach Steele. That was a little bit of a transition. Coach Poff was a little more laid back. He wanted us to win, most definitely, but, he wanted us to have fun as well. When Coach Steele got us, it was a lot more plays, a lot more to remember, a lot more responsibility. I’ve loved playing for both coaches. They both have very different styles but they’re both the same. They want you to have fun.”