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Notre Dame softball’s Hailey Burnett signs with Southeast Missouri State

Notre Dame senior Hailey Burnett signed a national letter of intent with Southeast Missouri State to continue her softball career last month. Pictured in the front row from left: Harper Burnett (brother), Jim Burnett (father), Hailey Burnett and Lexi Burnett (mother). Back row: Notre Dame assistant coach Ray Reinagel, Notre Dame assistant coach Mallory Siebert and Notre Dame softball head coach Jeff Graviett. Photo by Nick McNeal

Following her career as a four-year starter for Notre Dame softball, senior Hailey Burnett put pen to paper and inked with Southeast Missouri State last month. Burnett had verbally committed to SEMO back in January.

“It feels so much more real now — I knew I was going there before, but now it’s like serious,” Hailey said. “Like, I’m really going to SEMO, and I’m really excited.”

The Redhawks have won three Ohio Valley Conference Championships in the past four seasons and took third in the 2019 NCAA Oxford Regionals. This was after SEMO had won its first OVC Tournament title in 20 years.

Therefore, it’s safe to say Burnett made a smart choice by signing with SEMO to play for a head coach in Mark Redburn that has won 209 games through eight seasons with the Redhawks.

“Redburn completely took that program over and has changed it for the good, and I’m so excited to play,” Burnett said. “Every year I go watch them, and they’re better and better each season. I’m really excited to be a part of SEMO softball.”

Another reason why Burnett signed with SEMO is because growing up she is someone who always watches the Redhawks no matter the sport. Hailey also started developing a rapport with the program at a young age.

“I just fell in love with [SEMO], and I was like, ‘I want to play here — I want to play locally and for my community,’” Burnett said. “Whenever I was 10, I wasn’t really thinking about college, but when I was 12, I started going to a lot of camps including ones at SEMO.

“I then started playing at tournaments, where SEMO would come and watch, and I was inviting them to all of my games. It was just stuff like that and sending emails — all the stuff.”

Redburn and the Redhawks should consider themselves lucky to get a player of Burnett’s caliber, who was a multiple time all-conference and all-district selection for the Bulldogs.

These accolades, of course, weren’t handed to Burnett, especially this past fall after recording a .486 batting average, 52 hits, five home runs, 39 runs batted in, 19 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. As a junior, Hailey hit a career-high eight home runs, along with batting a .369 and having 38 hits, 37 RBIs, 26 runs and 13 stolen bases.

“With hitting, I’ve worked my butt off since I was 10 to be where I am today,” Burnett said. “What I actually do is I go up to the plate and I’m like, ‘I’ve worked harder than the pitcher. I’m better than the pitcher, and I’m going to hit a bomb off her.’ That’s what I have to do.

“Whenever I was younger, I didn’t hit balls past the infield, and it was really bad. I was a bigger girl, so I’d come up there and they’re probably expecting me to hit the ball far, and I did not. I had to build my strength up and my form, so that was a lot of it.”

Hailey also recorded the best pitching record on the rubber for Notre Dame at 12-2 overall with 67 strike-outs and a 1.62 earned run average (both team bests). Burnett wasn’t able to pitch much during her junior campaign due to an injury.

“I’ve pitched since I was little bitty, but I never thought about doing it at a bigger level — even in high school,” Hailey said. “I had an injury that really set me back to where I never thought I was going to be able to play again. Then I pitched my senior year, and I think I did pretty well.”

Defensively at SEMO, Burnett will focus on playing first and third base when she isn’t batting. Hailey finished this season with zero errors while getting 168 players out.

“For first base, it’s just reading the ball. A lot of people are like, ‘You just catch the ball,’” Burnett said. “It’s a lot more than that and at the D-I level, they’ve got crazy arms, so you’ve got to be ready for anything.”

Outside of her individual success, Burnett helped Notre Dame win not one but three district championships with a combined record of 98-26 over the past four seasons. Hailey shared this success with other seniors like her cousin Ainsley Burnett, Kadi Dohogne, Halle Ressel, Ali Ziegler and Emma Steimle.

Burnett was 10-years-old when playing college softball became a dream of hers, which was when she first started playing in travel leagues.

After playing “every sport you can imagine,” Hailey said she leaned more towards softball than anything else growing up, and she also stated she was always more successful in it than others. This led Burnett to “pick” softball and work as hard as she could towards being the best player possible.

“Softball is every weekend — I just got back from Las Vegas, and I’m going to California next weekend, so we’re everywhere,” Burnett said. “I mean I love it, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Playing all over the country also allows Burnett to play against some of the very best talent across the nation, which is exactly what she’ll be facing while playing at SEMO.

“Oh it’s crazy — I’ve hit against girls who are going to LSU and Kansas,” Hailey said. “It’s really good for me if I’m hitting off of them because then I know I can do it at that level.”

Hailey also thoroughly enjoys the team-bonding aspect through softball while not only playing for Notre Dame, but also with her travel teams like the Stars and Select Fast Pitch organizations when she wasn’t playing high school softball.

“Playing in high school is so much fun because we do team stuff outside of playing games and practicing,” Burnett said. “For my travel team, we’ll go out and eat dinner together, so it’s just more than just being a team and playing softball. It’s being a team and being friends and building those friendships.”

Stars is the first travel team Burnett started playing for, and this is where she met program president Jared Hotop. Hailey said Hotop is the main person who helped her land at SEMO. Burnett also, of course, has her parents to thank for her career thus far.

“My parents have spent the money for me to travel across the United States and play softball,” Hailey said. “They also pay for $500 bats — I mean that’s ridiculous. Playing in all of these tournaments, playing for these travel teams and even going to Notre Dame — all my thanks goes to them and my dad especially.

“All the time he took to take me to batting cages. I would ask, ‘Hey, dad, it’s 10 o’clock. Can we go to the batting cages?’ He’d say, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I’m just so thankful for everything they did for me.”

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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