CHARLOTTESVILLE — With her arms lifted above her red, curly head of hair as she rounded each base, Eastern Hancock’s Peyton West — with a smile as broad as the ocean— was sitting happily on Cloud Nine.
In the biggest game of her high school softball career, West delivered against the state’s No. 1 Class 2A team.
Flipping momentum on Eastern Hancock’s side after sending a home run over the fence, West secured the Royals’ first run of the game against Henryville in their opening semistate game last June. Then junior Kaysi Gilbert followed suit with a deep ball to help the Royals seal a place in the title contest, one game away from a state finals berth, with a 6-2 win.
Just hours later, though, West and the Royals’ tournament run would end. A loss which still motivates her to this day. And although she has already claimed a college of choice, West isn’t satisfied — it’s just not in her blood.
After reaching base and scoring the team’s first run, again, against Evansville Mater Dei in a 3-2 loss, West was put in a difficult situation with two outs and two Royals on base (eighth inning). The game was on the line with the team’s best hitter at the plate.
“I didn’t want to feel like I let my team down,” West said, who popped up to end the game and her team’s (20-4) magical season. “Softball is such a game of concentration. I was just a little ahead of the ball.
“I knew exactly what I did wrong. I was inside the ball too much. It (the day) was exhilarating and heartbreaking. It still hurts.”
Her hitting and travel coach (Indiana Shockwaves), Jeanne Rayman, spoke with West about that last at-bat over a hitting drill this summer. She told West that knowing what she did wrong, and how to correct it, is what’s most important and shows a sign of maturity.
She proved it when deciding where to attend college.
In the wild world of recruiting, West went with her gut instinct. Obviously a Division I talent, West, who also received interest from IPFW, decided to verbally commit to Calumet College of St. Joseph (NAIA) in Whiting — five minutes from Lake Michigan — on April 17
As a member of the Crimson Wave, she plans to major in biomedical sciences and eventually will apply for dental school.
“Not only did I fall in love with the campus, they are promising to take care of me financially,” West said. “I thought I was dead set on IPFW. Then I went to CCSJ and fell in love. The coaches are so cool. I got to practice with the current girls, and they were so fun and welcoming.
“The campus is small, which is what I wanted. When I left my visit I couldn’t stop smiling. It clicked that I need to focus on a school that makes me happy, not if it’s just Division I.”
On the field, not only has West been motivated by past failures, she finds inspiration from her family.
West and her mother, Amy, are best friends. Her father, Shane, rarely misses a game. And her brother Parker, a former distance runner at Eastern Hancock, shares her passion for athletics.
That support system, West said, has made her life so much easier.
“Part of the reason I wanted to get the softball scholarship was, not to repay my parents, but for them not to worry about me getting a college education,” West said. “I owe it to my parents for how hard they worked for me. Softball has been a really good way for me to connect with them.”
And it shows by her results on the field.
Last season a junior, West led the Royals in average (.444) and hits (36) while driving in 23 runs. She also scored 23 runs, stole seven bases and blasted three home runs. In 89 plate appearances, she struck out just six times.
Defensively, according to MaxPreps, she did not commit an error the entire season and helped 2016 senior pitcher Darby Shaw collect 174 strikeouts on the mound.
Shaw knows West better than almost anyone on the field. The pair has been playing together since their Royal Rage days, when they were 10- and 11-years-old.
“I knew I could count on her to give it her all no matter what,” Shaw said. “Peyton has a really good work ethic and a desire to win. And she is very confident in herself.”
West followed an impressive junior campaign with a busy summer, too, playing on the Shockwaves while also practicing basketball and finding time to relax.
Unfortunately, with prior commitments, West was unable to make the trip to Nationals this week in Texas with her travel team.
However, she did find a little time to travel to Venice, Italy, — just for fun — this summer. Although, missing out on the trip to Texas has not been exactly ideal, she said.
“She is always looking to get better in all facets of the game,” Eastern Hancock head softball coach Sue Anderson said, who has spent the last three seasons with West. “She had really turned into a vocal leader for us and has displayed what hard work looks like.”
Not only is West dedicated outside of school in athletics, she is equally committed inside the classroom. Boasting a 4.05 grade point average, she is currently taking classes at a Vocational Careers Center, Ivy Tech Community College and Eastern Hancock.
She recently was named president of the Dental Careers program in New Castle and will have 30 college credits by the time she graduates high school.
The senior also is close to becoming a 10-year member of 4-H and has been a member of the school’s student council since sixth grade. She is active on National Honor Society and National Technical Honor Society, as well.
West elected not to play volleyball this fall and will instead focus on academics, managing the football team and basketball — a sport she said she uses as a nice release from the long grind of softball.
Last season for Eastern Hancock (17-8), West averaged 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. She had a season-high 18 points in a win over Elwood.
Another deep tournament run in possible next season for the Royals softball team, too, as a large chunk of the team — that went further than any in school history — returns with valuable tournament experience.
The basketball team should fare well, too, after losing just two seniors.
In the meanwhile, West will be hard at work.
“That last at-bat even motivated me through the travel season (this summer),” West said. “This summer and this fall I’m ready to work on focusing on what I do wrong. What motivates me the most is I don’t want it (the game) to go down again like that. I want to be able to get a base hit.”