College coaches usually try to sell a recruit’s mother as much as they do a student-athlete when trying to woo a high school student to attend their school and play for their program. If mom trusts you, the school of thought goes, she then becomes an adjunct recruiter for you.
When Converse College softball coach Jen George was making her pitch to have North Central’s Abbigale Outlaw join the Valkyries’ program, little did she know the one person who knew and speaks the least in the Outlaw household would have the biggest impact as to where his oldest sister would attend college.
Outlaw has a strong bond with her entire family, but the arrival of her brother Sammy, still not two years old, made straying far from home a moot case.
After signing a National Letter of Intent with Converse at a ceremony held inside The Castle at North Central, Outlaw admitted that she gave thought as to attending college elsewhere than in Spartanburg. With Sammy in her sister Julianne’s arms just a few feet away, she smiled when asked why she signed with Converse.
“It felt like home to me. We spend a lot of time in the Spartanburg area and I knew that I would get to see (my family) more if I was closer to home,” she said. “Me and my brother are close. It actually changed my mind to have a little brother and stay closer to home just because he’s so young. I want to make sure we grew up together and that we stay close.”
George first saw Outlaw at an Elite 80 prospect camp for 16 and under players which was held in the Upstate region. Not long after, George was on the recruiting trail and keeping close tabs on Outlaw. George’s hard work paid off first with a commitment and then, Outlaw’s signing her NLI.
The process complete, Outlaw said she formed a bond with George, who is entering her second year as head coach at Converse after having served two seasons as the Valkyries’ graduate assistant softball coach.
“She’s really laid back. She’s close to our age so you can really relate to her,” Outlaw said of George, a former softball standout at St. Andrews University.
Leaving home will not be the only change for Outlaw. Heading to Converse will also entail a move to a different position. At North Central, head coach Mike Grigsby has had Outlaw toe the rubber as the number one pitcher for his team. George plans on using Outlaw in the outfield when the Lady Knight senior joins George’s softball program at Converse College next spring.
“I think she can pitch in college,” Grigsby said, “but we have a better chance to win when she is on the mound. She knows what to do. I very rarely have to go out and ask if she’s OK because I know that she’s on track.
“We don’t win them all when she’s out there and, that’s because of some of the offensive problems that we have had. I look forward to this year because we have two seniors and all juniors coming back. It’s time for us to start winning and Abbigale’s a big part of that.”
Outlaw began playing travel softball when she was 12 years old and has played every spring and summer since. “I would consider travel ball to be more competitive than rec (recreation department) ball and, even school, in some cases,” she said. By the time she turned 16, her father, Joey, became one of her coaches on the travel ball circuit.
When it comes to her being a Lady Knight, this spring will mark her sixth year playing for Grigsby, who is in his ninth season as head softball coach after having had a previous stint as the school’s head baseball coach.
It did not take Grigsby long to notice Outlaw and make an executive decision as to what level the young girl would play in the spring.
“The first day I saw her,” Grigsby said, “she was able to do things that some of the other players weren’t able to do. When I saw her as a seventh-grader, I said, ‘That’s it. She’s going to be on my varsity team.’ That was my third year as a coach.
“It’s been amazing. I love having Abbigale on my team. I’ve never had a problem with her. Her work ethic is great and she will do anything that needs to get done; she helps me put the equipment up or, whatever. She just wants to help make us a better team and she has in the five and now, six, years that she has been with us.”
At North Central, Outlaw has been a pitcher by necessity. Grigsby said her athletic ability and her knowledge of the game makes her a valuable weapon and gives the Lady Knights their best chance at winning games. Outlaw called pitching “a high school thing” and looks forward to playing in the outfield at Converse.
“I’m going to play outfield there. Actually, I play outfield in travel ball,” she said of the change in position which will come next spring. “I don’t mind pitching. It’s harder for me; I have to work on it more. Playing in the outfield, I get to use my speed more and I get to do more in the outfield.”
In order to help Outlaw to get more acclimated to playing outfield in a live game setting, Grigsby said he will put her in the outfield in some contests this year. In the past, when the Lady Knights started or, brought another pitcher into the game, Outlaw usually shifted to a defensive spot in the infield.
As far as switching positions and playing softball in college, Outlaw seemed ready for the challenge that awaits her. “I don’t know that it’s going to be a big change,” she said. “It’s still the game of softball.”
Converse and college softball, can wait for now as Outlaw and the Lady Knights are beginning practice for the upcoming campaign. Grigsby said he hopes Outlaw can pick up where she left off as a junior and, even, improve on her numbers to help his team as well as her stock when it comes to postseason honors and accolades.
“Last year, she had a little extra ‘oomph’ in it,” he said as to Outlaw’s power numbers at the plate. “I think that was her best batting season since she’s been here. She was able to put the ball where she needed to and she was able to drive runners in.
“I’ve been trying to get her on the all-state team for the last three years but with the region we’re in, it’s tough. I do all that I can. She deserved to be on the all-state team last year. This year, she should be playing in the North-South All-Star Games and I’m doing everything I can, if she has the same kind of season as she did last year, to get her recognition because she has worked hard since the first day she came out there with me.”
Admitting that she is “kind of nervous” about leaving home for Converse next fall, Abbigale Outlaw is more focused on the present. She wants this to be a memorable season for she and her NC teammates then, she can get on with the business of switching positions and getting used to the college games and the competition which lies ahead.
“To make playoffs and win as much as possible,” she said when asked her goal for her final high school go ‘round. And what of changing spots in the field? She just flashed a grin when giving that answer
“I’m one of those players who will play any position. I just want to play.”