In this file photo, Grace's Lacye Walker pitches in a game against Silverdale at Grace Academy.Staff File Photo by Angela Lewis
Virtually as soon as Lacye Walker could sign scholarship papers with Chattanooga State, she did.
Walker, who pitched Grace Academy to the Class A state softball final last spring, was to sign just after midnight this morning to play for the Lady Tigers in 2011-12. Jan. 15 is the first date for junior college signings.
"She wanted to be different. She wanted to be unique," Grace coach Tina Walker, Lacye's mother, said as the signing time approached. "She's been working hard for this for years, and she's so excited."
The 5-foot-6 left-handed pitcher was 28-5 with 291 strikeouts and a 0.90 earned run average last season. A righty batter, she hit .514 with 10 home runs and 43 RBIs for the 33-8 Lady Golden Eagles.
She already had scholarship offers from NCAA Division I schools — including Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Tennessee Tech — with more likely to come during and after her senior season for Grace. But Chattanooga State head coach Beth Keylon-Randolph in pitching and assistant coach Jamie Qualls in hitting have worked with Lacye for years, and her older sister, Tiffany, was a Lady Tigers standout.
"As her coach, I can say that Lacye is a very good player who could go a lot of places. As her mom, I wanted to keep her close to home another year or two. She's my baby," Coach Walker said. "Chattanooga State has a great program, and Beth is one of the best coaches around. All my girls took pitching lessons from Beth since they were 9, and Tiffany had a great experience there."
Said Lacye, who as a Team Fury pitcher is the subject of an ESPN video on how she throws her rise ball: "Beth and Jamie are real good coaches, and I love them to death."
Keylon-Randolph predicted that the youngest Walker could be a "marquee Division I player" after two years with the Lady Tigers, "if she continues to do like she does now, with her work ethic and the maturity I've seen."
Tiffany was a right-handed thrower who was a stalwart at third base for Chattanooga State and then Lee University. Lacye can play first base and the outfield in addition to pitching.
"Tiffany was a great all-around player, and so is Lacye," Keylon-Randolph said. "Both of them are power hitters."
"I think Lacye has a little more [fastball] speed than Tiffany, and more movement. When her rise ball is on, she's tough to hit, and her curve is pretty decent, too."