Baptista inks NLI with North Carolina

Baptista inks NLI with North Carolina

Smithfield native and La Salle Academy senior second baseman Kayla Baptista will be taking her glove and bat to the University of North Carolina softball team after she graduates from high school next spring.
Smithfield native, La Salle All-State softball player highlights outstanding year with decision to join Tar Heels

SMITHFIELD – Softball seasons don’t get any better than the one Kayla Baptista just wrapped up.

This past spring, the Smithfield native and La Salle Academy second baseman led the state in a handful of offensive categories in helping lead the Rams to a 21-2 record and their first state championship in 11 years.

During the summer and fall, Baptista patrolled the infield for the highly successful R.I. Thunder Gold U18 travel team, and earlier last month, she and her teammates put the finishing touches on a marvelous 32-5-3 fall season.

And on Wednesday, Nov. 13, the first official day for student-athletes nationwide to sign National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic and academic careers at Division I colleges, Baptista made her future plans official by signing with the University of North Carolina.

“I’m very happy I’m going there,” Baptista said last Friday about her decision to join the Atlantic Coast Conference school, which reached the ACC championship game last spring. “This is definitely where I want to continue my softball career.”

One of seven players in the country to sign with the Tar Heels, Baptista hopes to make an impact on her new school in the same fashion she’s excelled in the past three seasons with the Rams.

A three-year starter who is a two-time First-Team All-State player and a Third-Team All-State selection as a freshman, Baptista enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore. Batting leadoff, she hit .520, scored 20 runs, and added a dozen stolen bases.

But last spring, Baptista raised her game to another level. She batted an astounding .688 and collected 33 hits, 19 runs batted in, and 29 runs scored. On the basepaths, she was untouchable, as she went 34-for 34 in stolen base attempts.

And on May 31, when the Rams ended their regular season with a 17-1 mark, she announced her decision on social media to commit to North Carolina.

Earlier in her high school career, Baptista had committed to the University of Tennessee, but “I realized that it wasn’t actually what I wanted,” she admitted. “The other commits to Tennessee had a group chat and we talked about it, and basically all of us decommitted. A few of them are at Texas now.”

“When I decommited, I was a little nervous at first,” she added. “It was kind of late and I asked myself, ‘What if I cant find anywhere else? What if no one needs my position?’ But I sent out a bunch of emails, and with (La Salle assistant coach) Elise (Fortier), I made a list of my top 10 schools.”

While North Carolina was high on her list, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Michigan, Stanford, and Duke were also on it. Syracuse was actually the first school of the bunch to reach out to Baptista with a scholarship offer, and the Orangemen did so right after a camp on their facility that Baptista attended.

“As I was driving home from the camp, they called me,” said Baptista. “I don’t know how they got my number, but somehow they did. That was my first offer, and (receiving one) was promising.”

But when North Carolina came calling, Baptista instantly fell in love with the Chapel Hill school, and while she’s eager to grab her glove and take the field for the Tar Heels, she plans to major in exercise and sports science with a minor in either communications, coaching, or analytics.As for her time with the Thunder, Baptista, who started playing softball at the age of six, joined the organization and head coach Dave Lotti when she was 13 and played in several college exposure tournaments around the country.

The Thunder’s fall team, which also included La Salle teammates Darien McDonough and Arianna Rodi, dominated play for the past 2 1/2 months and “we pretty much should have went undefeated the whole season,” she said. “We lost games that we absolutely shoudn’t have lost.”