By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
In just her second season at Georgia Southern University, former Effingham County softball standout Bailee Wilson batted a team-leading .382 and earned second-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors.
She was named the conference player of the week May 4.
Despite a sophomore season of accolades, the rising star who played third base and batted cleanup admits it was a trying year.
“COVID really put a different outlook on my college experience,” Wilson said.
Classes for the school year started online and, upon physically returning to school, masks and social distancing created unique but necessary barriers, she said.
When the softball season started, COVID became a disrupting force again. A teammate tested positive and the entire team was quarantined for seven days.
Georgia Southern’s first four games were canceled.
“I just made sure I stayed safe and did the things they told you to do. I didn’t want to be the reason why we didn’t play,” said Wilson, who lived in an apartment with three teammates but never caught the coronavirus.
It was a beginning that mirrored the end of her 2020 rookie season, when the NCAA shut down spring sports midway through the season.
“(Missing the second half of the season) made you remember why you play the game,” Wilson said. “You play the game for fun.”
She said she stayed active in the summer of 2020 by working out with her father and older sister Shelby, who had played at Georgia Southern.
The Eagles started the 2021 season by losing seven of their first eight games (five by one run), but when Wilson heated up, so did the team.
During three-game sweeps of South Alabama and Georgia State, Wilson had 11 hits, three home runs and 12 RBI in 21 at-bats.
Her run-scoring single in the bottom of the eighth gave the Eagles a walk-off 4-3 victory over USA on May 1. Five days later, Wilson’s three-run homer in the seventh inning rallied Southern from a one-run deficit to a 5-4 win over Georgia State. The next day, another Wilson three-run homer provided a cushion in an 11-7 extra-inning win over the Panthers.
“Our last two series were high points of the season for our team,” Wilson said. “South Alabama always has a good team and then we beat Georgia State, our rivals.”
Wilson is majoring in communications with a minor in theater. And she’s developing a passion for film.
No doubt, she could appreciate the script that began to play out for Georgia Southern’s 2021 softball season — the team goes through hardship but gets hot at the right time and makes a run in the conference tournament.
But there was no Hollywood ending. The Eagles were eliminated in their first tournament game by Georgia State — the team it swept less than a week earlier.
“Losing wasn’t how you wanted to end the season, especially for our seniors,” Wilson said.
But she is optimistic new coach Sharon Perkins from Georgia Tech can bring a new narrative.
“We’ve met her on a Zoom call and you can tell she’s looking forward to getting to work,” Wilson said.
And second-team All-Sun Belt? Wilson said she’ll work to shoot for a notch higher in 2022.
“I’m grateful for (second-team honors). I’m glad I could do what I did against some great pitchers in this conference. Now I have a new goal to aim for,” she said.