ETSU snares a shortstop


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MANASSAS — Stephanie Gaynord never gets tired of fielding ground balls. She’ll dive around the infield until the sun disappears from sight if she can find someone willing to keep hitting it her way.

That’s how much she loves softball.

For Gaynord, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of sliding across the infield to snare a softball in her glove and then scrambling to her feet to hurl it across the diamond.

Especially if she’s playing shortstop.

“I’ve always loved shortstop,” she said. “I’ve tried to work hard so I could play there.”

It’s difficult to imagine now that Gaynord ever played another position on the field, but the Osbourn High School senior actually began her career as a second baseman.

A good one, too.

Two years ago, Gaynord hit .472 as a sophomore. But it was her glove work at second base that offered the best proof of her true talent.

As well as Gaynord hits the ball, she’s even better at fielding it. And that’s the reason she’ll get an opportunity to keep playing softball after her high school career ends this spring — as a shortstop at East Tennessee State University.

After earning all-state honors in her first season at Osbourn’s starting shortstop last spring, Gaynord signed a letter of intent earlier this month to join a fledgling Bucs program that will be in its fourth year of existence when she arrives next fall.

“It’s definitely nice. Even though they’re a new team, they’re Division I and they can go to nationals,” Gaynord said. “I wanted to sign early. Now the pressure is off and it feels good.”

Gaynord also received scholarship offers from Longwood College and C.W. Post-Long Island University, but chose ETSU following a recent visit to Johnson City, Tennessee.

“Everything was beautiful and the facilities are huge,” said Gaynord, who was especially impressed with the Bucs’ weight-lifting program and the school’s accredited business program.

“I am very excited for Stephanie. I think she made a great choice in deciding to go to ETSU,” Osbourn coach Renee Leake said. “It’s a new program and I think it is a very positive situation for Stephanie to step into. She is an excellent student as well as being an outstanding athlete and I truly believe that she will excel in both at ETSU.”

The Bucs are a team in transition with a first-year head coach and a 15-player roster that features five freshmen and four sophomores, but the program also has significant ties to Prince William County. Assistant coach Jennifer Herzig, who scouted Gaynord during the Northwest Region Tournament last spring, was a catcher at Osbourn, while the freshman class includes former Hylton catcher Jessica Lonsinger and former Gar-Field pitcher Julia McChain.

“That actually helped,” Gaynord said. “I know if I get homesick they’ll be there to talk to.”

As long as she has softball, Gaynord should feel right at home, especially now that she’s part of a program that’s just starting out.

The Bucs went 25-32 last season and finished fourth in the Southern Conference Tournament, but Gaynord likes the team’s potential.

“By my sophomore or junior year we’ll be tough,” she said.

Gaynord has reason to believe that. The Eagles are proof that a young team can play championship softball if it plays together.

With three freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup, the Eagles set a school record for wins during a 20-5 season. They won the Cedar Run District Tournament, the Northwest Region Tournament and advanced to the state final four. Gaynord committed only two fielding errors in 25 games while batting .390 and two of her best performances came in the postseason.

She went 4 for 5 in a 7-0 win over Stonewall Jackson in the Cedar Run District championship game and was 3 for 4 in Osbourn’s 11-0 rout of G.W.-Danville in the regional tournament.

“One thing I really liked [about ETSU] is they do stuff together and you can tell they’re really close,” Gaynord said. “I thought that was good because you can be a lot more successful if you have unity.”

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