SHENANDOAH, Nov. 10 — Almost three months before she starts practicing for the Panthers’ next run at a state championship, Page County High School senior Bailee Gaskins signed her National Letter of Intent to play Division II collegiate softball at Coker University.
On Friday evening, about 50 family, friends and fans gathered in the PCHS Commons to watch Gaskins complete a life-long dream and ink her future in collegiate softball — carrying on a recent tradition in the Panthers’ solid softball program.
“She works hard,” longtime PCHS softball coach Allen Knight said of Gaskins on Friday. “She’s gonna give you everything she’s got because she doesn’t like to lose…which I like because I’m that same way.”
Over the last two seasons, Gaskins’ right arm has helped lead the Panthers to a 43-12 record, including two consecutive appearances in the VHSL Class 2 state semifinals and one state runner-up finish. She currently has 388 career strikeouts from the circle and was last season’s Player of the Year in both the Bull Run District and Region 2B.
“I remember her saying [last season]…’I have a goal, but I don’t know if I should say it out loud…but I want to be Player of the Year’…well she achieved that twice over,” PCHS Athletic Director Bill Simmons said during Friday’s ceremony. “But her biggest moment, in my opinion, didn’t even involve her pitching…[it was the game-winning home run in the Bull Run District tournament championship] …when she stepped up, that ball was going over that fence.”
Gaskins has the typical “Shenandoah Softball” resume…which always starts off in the successful Shenandoah Recreational League. Her All-Star team was invited to Florida to participate in the Babe Ruth Softball World Series in 2017, something she had watched other teams do in previous seasons.
Once she reached the varsity level, Gaskins spent her freshman year in the shadow of former Panther standout Taylor Hankins, who spent a brief time paying at Division I James Madison University. The young pitcher would only record 11 strikeouts that year in a few innings of relief for Hankins, who went on to win Player of the Year in both the district and the region. Another teammate, Maddie Gordon signed with Division I Penn State. During that same time, Gaskins watched former Panther Kate Gordon (Maddie’s older sister) hit a home run heard throughout college softball as underdog JMU made a strong stand against powerhouse Oklahoma in the opener of the 2021 CSWS. Today, Kate plays professional softball.
Then it was time for Gaskins to begin making her own mark on the history of the Panther softball program. During her sophomore year, Gaskins would break the school’s single-season strikeout record by recording 160. Then she would break the school record again, posting 217 strikeouts in her junior campaign.
“It’s crazy to think…Page County High School is a school where, when people think about it, everyone thinks about softball…it’s crazy to think I’m a part of that,” Gaskins said on Friday. “I never thought I could be a pitcher…I was a shortstop…a few years ago I thought about quitting pitching altogether.”
When she was 14 or 15, the now reigning Region 2B Player of the Year said she played for a coach “who didn’t think I was a pitcher.” She still thought of herself as that shortstop, especially after losing her pitching coach — her grandfather, Roy Cardin — who died when she was 11.
“Roy would be proud,” Coach Knight said prior to Friday’s signing.
Cardin served as a pitching coach for the Panther softball program for many years, and he also worked with his granddaughter as well.
“I remember when he taught me to throw a change up…after a really rough game,” Gaskins said. “Now my change up is one of my best pitches.”
So, she stuck with pitching and joined a few travel softball teams, such as the Virginia Legends out of Charlottesville and the Carolina Cardinals out of North Carolina. Travel ball is where Gaskins met Reece Sherwin, who played at Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg. Sherwin would later sign with Coker, and get Gaskins interested in the school as well.
“My travel team believed in me…took a chance on me…and my sophomore year was good,” Gaskins said of her development.
By her junior year, the rising right-hander at PCHS began working on her own recruiting by attending camps, and sending out emails and letters to various schools and coaches. Her dream was to attend Coastal Carolina because she loves the beach and her dad is an alum — but they only saw her a potential walk-on. An offer came from a Division II school that was an “alright offer,” but Gaskins felt she could do better. There was also some level of Division III interest from Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) schools like Bridgewater, Guildford and Christopher Newport University.
Due to her friendship with Sherwin, the fact that she loved the campus, and it was only 30 minutes from her grandparents in Florence, S.C., Gaskins began to pursue Coker and attempted to get a look from head coach Brittany Bennett, who was just in her first year at the helm of the Cobras. Bennett seemed interested and finally made it out to a game at Clarke County on May 8, 2023.
“Coach Bennett finally came to see me play and I ended up throwing my perfect game,” Gaskins remembered.
Bennett spent nine years at the reigns of the Division II softball program at UNC-Pembroke, where she collected more than 200 wins before joining the Cobras last season. Coker won 22 games during Bennett’s inaugural season, including six in the South Atlantic Conference. The small private university was founded in 1908 and sits in Hartsville, S.C. with an enrollment of about 1,200 students.
Gaskins visited the campus on July 18, but she will make her “official” visit in the next few weeks when she meets others recruits, players and tours the school’s facilities. Her scholarship covers more than half of the $45,000 annual tuition, totaling “into six figures” over her four-year education. She was told to not reveal the actual amount, as only seven scholarships are awarded among the 28-player roster.
“I really hoped I would [be able to play college softball],” the PCHS senior said. “I grew up watching college softball. I’m really proud of myself…given the adversity I’ve faced…I didn’t give up.”
She was diagnosed with epilepsy at just nine months old, but the illness regressed and didn’t show up again until she was preparing to enter eighth grade.
“I had a neurologist appointment not knowing if I could even play softball,” she said. “But everything checked out fine…the doctor said there was very little I couldn’t do [because of epilepsy]…I took that as a wake up call…I could do anything, as long as I made up my mind I could do it.”
Gaskins rededicated herself to the thing she loved…softball; and the extra work has paid off. In the last two seasons, Gaskins has been named first team All-District both years, first team All-Region both years, and second team All-State last season. She the reigning Player of the Year in the region, holds the single-season strikeout record for Page, has recorded three no hitters and a perfect game.
Expectations will certainly be high as she enters her senior season this spring. However, for now, the Page County senior will simply enjoy the moment.
“It’s just kind of crazy to think I’m a part of all this,” Gaskins said of the PCHS softball program’s legacy and now signing to play collegiate softball. “We have more to achieve this year, but for today I’m just going to enjoy this.”
For more information about Coker University softball,