Advertisement
Share

It wasn’t easy, but Reagan Walsh made the Florida dream happen

South Torrance softball standout Reagan Walsh poses for a photo.
Reagan Walsh, a senior shortstop at South Torrance High, will fulfill a dream when she plays at Florida next softball season.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

When Reagan Walsh was younger, batting practice with her dad turned into a two-person play.

In the box, Walsh cast herself as Kelsey Bruder. Then as Megan Bush. Then as Michelle Moultrie and Kelsey Horton and Aja Paculba, and the rest of the 2011 Florida Gators softball lineup. She’d imagine her swing was theirs, that balls she hit over the fence added a run to Florida’s total on the scoreboard.

Her father, who fired pitch after pitch with an arm that, a long time ago, led to his selection in the NFL draft, wasn’t so lucky in the mind of his daughter.

“I was always the big, ugly Alabama pitcher,” John Walsh said.

Advertisement

Walsh, now a standout senior shortstop at South Torrance High, has only wanted to play for one college team: Florida. She just knew. Her love for the program burned bright — so much that before she ever stepped foot on South Torrance’s campus, Walsh committed to the Gators.

Her future, her dream waited patiently at the end of the minefield that was her high school career. A few false steps, and Walsh’s scholarship could blow up in her face. There was constant pressure.

“Anything can happen,” Walsh said.

Her father has been around sports his entire life, a locally renowned quarterback for West Torrance and Carson before lighting up football fields at Brigham Young. He knows an athlete when he sees one. And his daughter, he says, is an athlete.

He was steadfastly confident in her abilities, even at an age when the only pressure on her might’ve been to memorize her times tables. At one softball party for her sister Lauren, with Florida playing in the national championship game on TV, John made a bold declaration to other parents about his 8-year-old.

“I looked at a couple guys and said, ‘My little daughter, Reagan, she’s going to play for the Gators one day,’” John recalled. “They kind of looked at me ... ‘Oh, this guy’s bragging about his daughter,’ or, ‘He’s just an idiot.’ But I guess I was right.”

Walsh has plenty of confidence in herself. Coach Scott Hayward saw it the first time she showed up at South Torrance.

There’s a soccer field beyond the left-field fence. In Walsh’s first practice, Hayward issued a challenge to veteran teammate Charlee Pond during a hitting drill: see how many you can hit onto the soccer field. Pond whacked six.

Advertisement

“All right,” Hayward recalled saying. “Anybody else who wants to challenge Charlee for that, feel free.”

A voice piped up. It was Walsh. She’d do it, she said.

She did. She hit double Pond’s total.

“A freshman who wasn’t afraid of anything,” Hayward said of the memory.

Advertisement
A sign on South Torrance High’s outfield fence displays Reagan Walsh’s college commitment, with the soccer field behind it.
A sign on South Torrance High’s outfield fence displays Reagan Walsh’s college commitment, with the soccer field behind it.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

That year, Walsh said, she hit 15 home runs.

She’s always had “prolific power,” Hayward said, able to drive the ball 280 feet to all fields. After a compact swing sends her blonde ponytail flying, balls off Walsh’s bat that look like outs simply carry. In an 18-12 loss to Los Alamitos on April 13, Walsh hit such a frozen rope, Hayward said, that the shortstop jumped to try to catch a ball that landed over the fence.

“She looks intimidating,” said Sophia Nugent, a catcher for Los Alamitos.

Advertisement

Pitchers thought so too. In her sophomore year, Walsh wasn’t seeing many pitches in the strike zone. She was known. At times she was swinging out of frustration, trying to chase a ball she should lay off. Her home run count dropped to four.

Travel ball that year with the Batbusters, she said, was especially tough.

“I’ve had a lot of rough patches, of it just being like, push and push,” Walsh said. “It was just a lot of ups and downs.”

When you commit early to a program as prestigious as Florida, Hayward said, any down streaks bring worries about the future. Worries about measuring up to the program’s standards.

Advertisement

John remembered, in his high school years, his teams never left Southern California for a game. His daughter, on the other hand, was traveling to Florida, Oklahoma and Nebraska. Sacrificing time with friends to play club or train. Constantly trying to fit the merits of a scholarship.

Under the pressure, Walsh has grown up fast. What other choice do you have when your college future is lined up after eighth grade?

“We treat these girls like they’re adults,” John said. “And they’re really just babies. … I could not imagine being a freshman or an eighth grader and going to see a college coach or anything like that. It’s hard to keep that in perspective, because even right now, she’s just a 17-year-old girl.”

If Walsh feels pressure anymore, she doesn’t show it. She trots out to shortstop before innings with a beaming smile, and steps into the batter’s box to the walkup song “Whoopty” by CJ. Home runs yield sheepish grins. Errors lead to shrugs, Walsh trusting herself to make the next play.

Advertisement

She understands the mechanics of her swing extremely well, Hayward said. She’s able to bust slumps easily. And once Walsh settled into the mindset that she could take a few pitches, the self-described rough patches smoothed over.

“It sucks to walk, but you’ve got to play for your team,” Walsh said with a slight grin. “If they walk you, they walk you.”

In the first couple months of the COVID-19 shutdown, frequent spurts of rain fell onto South Torrance’s field. A layer of weeds sprouted. Dirt turned to mush.

Advertisement

Hayward visited the diamond often, trying to restore it. As he worked the grass, he’d look down to the adjacent junior varsity field. There, every day, was Walsh, taking swings against her dad.

As others grew a layer of rust during the pandemic, Walsh worked herself into the best physical condition Hayward said he’d seen. There’s one reason for that: Florida. Walsh wants to use her senior year to compete for a starting job with the Gators next spring.

In November, she put pen to paper to officially sign her commitment. It’s been a long road. When she takes batting practice with her dad, Walsh won’t have to pretend she’s a Gator. The only role she needs to play in the box is herself.

“The day she signed, I just looked at her and said, ‘Can you believe it? Your dream just came true,’” her father said. “That’s an awesome thing. We all have our dreams, but very few of us ever get to attain them.”


Advertisement