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Chasing History

When Alexis Walkden finishes her college softball career in 2018, she will go down as one of the greatest hitters in Seton Hall history. The Texas native holds the single-season home run record with 20, and through three seasons she has clubbed 41 homers, putting her in range of the school career mark of 59. Her abilities with the bat made her the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year in 2015 and the conference’s Player of the Year in 2017.

And yet when Walkden started at Seton Hall as the team’s third baseman, she wasn’t allowed to step up to the plate. “In the first week of her freshman year we actually hit for her,” says Seton Hall coach Paige Smith. “And she agreed with it. She’s like, ‘I wouldn’t have let me hit either, I was hitting terribly.’” Walkden finally got the chance to swing the bat in her third game.

The result? A home run. One game later, Walkden slugged two more home runs. “She hasn’t been hit for since,” Smith jokes. Walkden always seemed destined for a life on the diamond, even though softball wasn’t her first sport. “My dad’s side of the family is a huge baseball family,” she says.

“So that’s what got me into it originally.” Her uncle, Mike Walkden, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1991, and she started playing T-ball “at like 3 or 4 years old, and I played baseball for a really long time.” She eventually made the switch to softball, becoming a star in suburban San Antonio. The Seton Hall coaching staff spotted her at a tournament in California.

Walkden researched the school and saw “it was up by New York and was going to be a really different experience,” she says. “I had offers to stay in Texas, but the idea of trying something new was really cool.” The Pirates staff didn’t anticipate that Walkden would dominate with her hitting when they recruited her. “We offered her a scholarship,” Smith says, “and had never seen her get a base hit. It was the intangibles.”

Since that first season with the Pirates, Walkden has grown into a feared hitter and a strong leader, a player who worries little about her individual accomplishments and more about the team’s success. “I like being a leader in more of a supportive way instead of getting to practice and telling you exactly what to do,” she says.

She also leads on the field. Walkden defends against slaps and bunts and excels with her glove at third base, although she played shortstop most of her life.

And with the bat, she never has stopped hitting. Walkden followed up her record-setting 20-homer freshman campaign with eight home runs in 2016 and 13 more in 2017. The right-handed slugger has an unorthodox hitting style, according to her coach, who has marveled at her skills for three seasons. “She replants her rear foot and also replants her left foot,” Smith says. “The double plant thing she only does in games. … Most coaches would have tried to change her swing by now. We never tried to fix anything.”

Walkden wants to teach high-school math after graduation, and she might also coach. But for now, she has one more season and she needs 18 more homers to match the career record held by Laura Taylor ’05. “I have 150 people that tell me [about the record] so it’s hard to forget,” Walkden says with a laugh. “Once the season starts, it’s not something I really think about.”

But just as it’s been ever since she started swinging a bat for the Pirates, Walkden’s hitting will be what everyone in the BIG EAST talks about.

Written by Sean Fury

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