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Coach Kevin Baity back as head of West’s softball team

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

West Forsyth has a long tradition of having a strong athletics program. One of the programs that is at the forefront is the softball team.

And standing as the face of the softball program for the Titans, who won the NCHSAA Class 4-A state championship in 2016, is longtime head coach Kevin Baity.

So it came as a shock to many who follow softball in the area that Baity, who is in his 26th season as the head coach for West Forsyth, announced his retirement on Sept. 30 of last year. But it just turned out that he retired as a math and special education teacher at West Forsyth and intended to keep coaching. However, in North Carolina, a person who retires must sit out six months before working again.

“I did not want to retire from coaching,” Baity said. “I have no plans for that to happen until I’m not enjoying it until I’m getting something accomplished. I don’t see that in the near future. I absolutely love working with the young ladies. And I feel like I still have a little bit to offer.”

Baity, who was temporarily replaced as the head coach by longtime assistant coach Brian Bowman, returned as the head coach of the Titans on April 1 after fulfilling his six months, missing the first three games of the season.

“The timing was not the ideal situation for me,” Baity said. “There was no way I wanted to have to miss part of softball.”

Adding to the dilemma was that because of the NCHSAA shutdown of athletics last spring because of COVID-19, the West Forsyth softball team had played just six games. In addition, no coaches could have any workouts with the players until the summer. Baity, who has an overall record of 465-167, said he didn’t even see many of his players until September.

“Actually, when I sort of made the decision, Brian and I, that was the first thing I did because I did not want the girls hanging,” Baity said. “And Brian and I have been together for 15-plus years, so it wasn’t like that I was just leaving them not knowing that they were going to be taken care of because Brian and I have a lot of the same philosophies.

“Honestly I really didn’t think they would miss a beat. I guess the biggest part was the offseason workouts. That’s the biggest part, and the reason that’s the biggest part is Brian has a lot of duties. Brian mows all the fields, lines all the fields during football and soccer season. So most of the time, me and Coach (Josh) Foster are the ones who do the offseason workouts in the fall.”

COVID didn’t allow for any fall workouts, so in the winter, Bowman handled the workouts.

“Really I don’t feel like we missed a beat,” Baity said. “He just stepped right in. Honestly I just hated it because I felt that I was leaving him hanging, and the girls. I did speak with the girls on Sept. 30. I did not let anybody know at all because basically Mr. (Charles) McAninch (the former principal) didn’t want me to, and I didn’t want to. I just didn’t want it.

“I waited until I could talk to them. On Sept. 30, my last day, I spoke with them and I told them, here’s the deal. The timing’s not ideal. This is not the way I wanted it, but it’s just the way it has to be.”

Baity said it’s been a credit to the team how they’ve handled the situation.

“I think we’ve had great junior and senior leadership,” he said. “I think they’ve taken it in stride. We don’t have a single freshman this year on the varsity. So every one of them have played for me. So it’s not like they don’t know the way I do things, and the expectations that I have. And I did meet with the seniors separately and I told them that, ‘you guys are going to have to step up.’ And again, it was just mainly to help Coach Bowman out.”

Baity said he believes each coaching staff of any team needs at least four coaches. Shannon Casey, who is the assistant athletics director at West Forsyth, stepped in to help by calling pitches. In addition, Baity’s eldest daughter, Madison, helped by doing the pitching chart.

“It did help me knowing that they would be taken care of,” Baity said.

Baity said he attended practices, but he said he couldn’t have contact with the team.

“The hardest thing for me was I just had to sit back and keep my mouth shut, which is hard for me to do,” he said. “And in the games, I would sit in the back of my truck to stay away so that people wouldn’t think that I was doing any coaching. And that also wasn’t easy.”

Bowman also had the added duty of handling all the new measures and protocols for COVID.

“The biggest thing is, so many things were thrown on him because of the expectations for COVID,” Baity said. “You know, the screenings that he has to do before every single practice. The girls have to be so far apart. A lot of that has loosened up now. Now we can sit in the dugouts. To begin with, they couldn’t sit in the dugout. So, I think so much was thrown on him.”

COVID and all that has come with it has been stressful on everybody. However, even though the NCHSAA shut down athletics, travel ball continued around the country. Baity said he went to see some of his players play in Rock Hill, S.C, and to Burlington.

“I think it helps me just as much as it helps them to get on to the softball field,” Baity said.

Baity’s youngest daughter, Laiken, played volleyball and softball at Forbush, so her season was also shut down last year before she graduated.

“It has definitely made me appreciate the coaching and the softball part of it,” Baity said. “I’ve just been dying to get back into it.

“…It also made me realize how important family is.”

Baity is now helping his brother with mowing and landscaping.

“Every day I’m starting at 8:30, 9 o’clock helping him, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “I go straight from his work to West Forsyth now.”

Softball practice started on March 1, and West Forsyth’s first game was March 16 against South Stokes.

“It was very difficult. That was the hardest part because them being out there,” Baity said. “Honestly during their workouts I pretty much just stayed away. Now when practice started, I would go down, like I say, I would go down to the parking lot or I’d stay on the hill or whatever. And that was pretty tough.

“But it wasn’t from the standpoint of things weren’t going to get done, It was more, like I say, of a guilt. Like I need to be helping.”

West Forsyth defeated South Stokes 7-4 in Clemmons in the opener, but the Titans traveled to Walnut Cove six days later to play South Stokes again. South Stokes won the rematch 6-2. Because of rain, West Forsyth didn’t play again for eight more days, this time on March 30 in the Central Piedmont 4-A opener with Glenn. West Forsyth won that game 7-4 to improve to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference.

Baity came back on April 1 against undefeated East Forsyth, which at the time of this story was 10-0 overall and 7-0 in the conference, led by junior pitcher Kierston Deal, who has committed to South Carolina in Kernersville without conducting a practice. East Forsyth won 9-2. The following day was Good Friday, so the Titans didn’t practice. They returned to practice the following Monday, during spring break, which was Baity’s first practice with the team.

On April 6 in Mocksville, West Forsyth played Davie County and lost 7-2. They played at home against East Forsyth the next night and lost 12-1. The next game was the Monday after Easter at Forbush, and Forbush won 5-4 in a nonconference game.

But something starting clicking for the Titans last week. They defeated Davie County 9-8 in Clemmons and defeated Reagan 14-4 in Pfafftown to improve to 4-6 overall and 3-3 in the conference. Because of spring break and playing games, Baity didn’t have his second practice with the team until last Thursday. Counting Monday and Tuesday’s games against

“Right off the bat it’s pretty brutal,” Baity said. “But there again, you know, I think if you ask any of the girls we weren’t having the consistency. Right now we are starting to peak. I think we’re playing really well right now.”

Baity said the rematch against Davie is what turned things around.

“Beating Davie was huge,” he said. “They had just beat us the week before and they start off this game ahead of us 3-0. And our girls answered back three times. We were down three or four (runs) and we hit a grand slam to go ahead. And they come back and took the lead, and we ended up beating them in the bottom of the seventh on a walk off. We have just consistently gotten better.”

West Forsyth played another nonconference home game Monday night, a 5-3 loss against Oak Grove, and it played home against Reagan on Tuesday night. It finishes the regular season Thursday night with a conference game at Glenn. Counting Monday and Tuesday’s games against Oak Grove and Reagan Baity will have had eight games and only two practices since returning on April 1. 

Baity said that up until the Davie County game that the team had been inconsistent except for the consistent play of Jessica Martin and Bella Flynn. The whole team is playing with consistency now.

“They have absolutely killed the ball, and they’ve killed it all season,” Baity said. “…These two girls hit any pitching.”

The conference tournament is scheduled for next week. And the NCHSAA tournament starts May 3, and the state championship is scheduled May 14-15. Only East Forsyth, which has already clinched the regular-season title in the Central Piedmont 4-A, is guaranteed a spot in the tournament, but it is possible that another team from the conference can receive a wild-card. That wild-card would be determined in the conference tournament because West Forsyth and Davie will play each other in the No. 2 vs. No. 3-seeded game. The winner would likely face East Forsyth in the championship.

“I will say this, it will be absolute shame as good as we are for this group of seniors not to get to make the playoffs,” Baity said. “Because if it was a regular year we definitely would be going to the playoffs.”