New Bloomfield graduate Kate Baxter didn't have to travel far to continue her softball career in college at Missouri S&T in Rolla.
But Tuesday afternoon was her last chance to play down Highway 54 from home, when the Miners visited Lincoln at LU Softball Field. Baxter made the most of her opportunity, playing in front of friends and family.
In the fifth inning of Game 1 in Tuesday's doubleheader, Baxter pulled a two-run home run to right field for the Miners. A senior playing in her third season for Missouri S&T, it was the first home run of Baxter's college career.
"I really couldn't believe it," said Baxter, whose home run pulled Missouri S&T within one run of Lincoln at 5-4. "I was so excited, it made me so happy. It feels like all the hard work I've done paid off."
The home run came in Baxter's 79th career at-bat with the Miners. After fouling off a pair of two-strike pitches, she pulled the eighth pitch of the at-bat over the right-field fence.
"To finally get one over the fence is cool," Baxter said. "It doesn't happen for me very often, I'm more of a line-drive gap hitter."
The wind was already blowing out to right field, but Baxter said that didn't enter her mind when she stepped into the batter's box.
"Usually, I just try to get up there and get a base hit," she said. "Sometimes it hits off the bat just right."
Having family and friends in attendance to see the biggest hit of her college career made the moment more special for Baxter.
"That was probably the best part," she said. "If it was going to happen, I would have wanted it to happen here today."
Missouri S&T lost Game 1 of the doubleheader 6-4, but in the second game, Baxter's successful sacrifice bunt set up a chance for the go-ahead run to score for the Miners, who won the game 5-2 to split the doubleheader.
"Small ball is just as important as long ball," Baxter said. "It worked out and it helped, and I'm always down to help the team however I can."
Baxter was the starting pitcher for Missouri S&T in the opener. She went 4 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits with two walks and one strikeout.
"Every day, I feel like I'm getting better," said Baxter, who has pitched in 43 career games for the Miners. "I still definitely have things I need to work on, but I'm always getting more confident."
A designated player batted in her place in the lineup during the 2019 season, but Baxter has hit for herself the past two years. When she isn't pitching, Baxter plays right field, and she is batting .313 (15-for-48) in 21 games this season.
"When I first left high school, I wasn't going to play softball," said Baxter, who was an all-region infielder for New Bloomfield as a senior in 2016. "My first season (in college), I wasn't even on the team. Luckily I had the opportunity to walk on, and it's just been a blessing ever since."
Missouri S&T (5-19) has nine doubleheaders remaining in the regular season, including a home doubleheader April 21 against Lincoln. This will be the last season for Baxter, who plans to graduate from Missouri S&T in December.
And now, she will have one at-bat in Jefferson City she will always cherish.
"There were so many times in my softball career where I thought it was my last game," Baxter said. "There was my last game of high school, and then my last game of competitive ball, and I thought that was it for me.
"This is it, and I'm definitely going to give it my all."