PAXTON — Baylee Cosgrove won’t finish her softball career with 762 home runs.
But the Paxton-Buckley-Loda senior still receives treatment similar to Barry Bonds, MLB’s career home run record-holder.
Opponents are becoming increasingly wary of pitching to Cosgrove, a DePaul softball signee. Because she hits everything thrown her way. And rarely makes outs in the process.
“Them not pitching to me really shows the work I’ve done is paying off,” Cosgrove said. “I want to hit, but I’m getting on base. And that’s all I can do.”
May 24 marked the pinnacle of an opponent avoiding Cosgrove. That’s when she garnered seven walks during a doubleheader with Dwight. Including three with the bases loaded, thus forcing in a run each time.
PBL coach Kelli Vaughn said two of those bases-loaded free passes were intentional.
“Because she’s so formidable at the plate,” explained Vaughn, currently in her third stint overseeing the Panthers. “She doesn’t get cheated at the plate at all. The only time she’s made an out this year is by lining the ball somewhere ... or twice this year she’s popped out.”
Prior to May 25’s 10-3 victory over Momence in which Cosgrove went 3 for 5 with a home run and five RBI, Cosgrove was hitting .744 with six home runs, five triples, 10 doubles, 30 RBI, 33 runs scored and no strikeouts.
The phrase “she hits everything thrown her way” is not an exaggeration with Cosgrove.
Not these days, as PBL (12-3) winds down its regular season before hosting Ford County rival Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Wednesday in a Class 2A regional quarterfinal game.
“I knew I would have good numbers this year with the time I spend on hitting,” Cosgrove said, “but no one really expects to be hitting as high as I’ve been.”
Cosgrove’s overwhelming offense, which also includes her hitting for the cycle against Armstrong-Potomac, actually has a baseball background.
A younger Cosgrove initially found herself more interested in baseball than softball. So she played in Buckley and was coached by father Brad.
“I had boy neighbors, and they always played for Buckley baseball,” Baylee Cosgrove said. “After T-ball, I didn’t want to play softball. I didn’t want to wear shorts.”
One of Cosgrove’s fondest baseball memories has nothing to do with holding a bat.
“I used to beg to pitch,” Cosgrove said. “They finally let me pitch one game, and I struck out two batters.”
Cosgrove describes her dad, who played baseball at Parkland College and Southern Illinois, as “my biggest role model” on the diamond.
“He’s been my teacher through all of this,” Baylee Cosgrove said. “He’s my best friend and always my biggest supporter.”
Cosgrove did eventually transition to softball, playing for the Rantoul Rippers travel club in fifth grade. The Rippers, Cosgrove recalls, finished 2-30 in her one season with them.
“I learned how to lose, and I know a lot of people don’t lose very well,” Cosgrove said. “We were becoming better players.”
Cosgrove’s travel career also included stints with the Central Illinois Diamonds, Peoria Sluggers and Mattoon’s Premier Fastpitch programs.
Cosgrove’s shift to the Sluggers saw her self-confidence grow significantly.
“I remember one game ... there was all the coaches behind the backstop,” said Cosgrove, describing a college recruiting scene that played out prior to an NCAA rule change. “My coach after the game was like, ‘These coaches want you.’”
Vaughn coached Cosgrove in middle school as well and believed even then that Cosgrove could eventually become a Division I softball athlete.
“She’s helped teach her teammates the game,” Vaughn said. “From that early age, she just made the kids around her better.”
Cosgrove was the high school team’s starting catcher as a freshman and sophomore before the COVID-19 pandemic doomed her junior campaign. She plays shortstop now with the Panthers in her senior season.
Cosgrove threw out 22 potential base-stealers as a freshman while hitting .494. She batted .571 with 11 homers and 58 RBI as a sophomore.
“She lives, breathes and thinks softball 24/7,” Vaughn said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger competitor.”
Cosgrove still is seeking her first piece of IHSA hardware, though. The Panthers haven’t won a regional title since 2012 and will need to win three games in order to earn at least one trophy early next month.
That’s because PBL held a 3-3 record when IHSA seeds were determined.
Now the Panthers are on a roll. And Cosgrove is the crown jewel of that impressive performance.
“We’re coming in as the underdogs,” Cosgrove said, “to do the best we can.”
Colin Likas covers Illinois football and high school sports at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @clikasNG.