For the last four years, Gracie Pippenger and Sarah West have represented Central High School on the diamond as members of the softball team. As of Thursday, Nov. 14, the two Lady Raiders will be teammates for another four years.
Both Pippenger and West signed their letters of intent to play college softball for the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky. Pippenger signed hers first at 1 p.m., followed by West at 2 p.m.
"I think that's going to help give them somebody they can go through all that stuff with, that comfort level," CHS Coach Brandon McWhorter said. "Those two are just great friends on and off the field, so having the ability to go up there together is gonna help them succeed."
McWhorter added that both players had strengths that would allow them to adapt well to the college level. He also described them both as leaders.
Of Pippenger, McWhorter said her toughness and determination would be an important asset, exemplified by the way she came back from an ACL injury.
"I'm excited, I'm just happy about the opportunity I've been given," Pippenger said. "I really think it's the best opportunity I could've received."
Regarding West, McWhorter described her softball instincts as incredible and complimented her speed with the bat.
"I'm honored, to say the least. I'm very excited," West said. "It's a very beautiful campus and I'm very ready to play."
Both Pippenger and West hoped to play college softball from a young age onward, but the plan was not always to play on the same team. This shared connection came through Cumberlands head coach Bailey Dillender. The Lady Raider duo worked with Dillinger on offense while she was at Tennessee Tech.
The third-year Cumberlands coach's knowledge of what Pippenger and West could do offensively helped spur a desire to bring them onto the team.
"I think as I've gotten some really good athletes in, the one thing I continue to be missing a little bit of is firepower offensively," Dillender said. "So both of them fit that mold really well."
The University of the Cumberlands Patriots play in the NAIA Mid-South Conference. The team finished the 2019 season with a record 32-21.
In addition to the players' familiarity with Dillender, both added that the campus's beauty and size played a role in the decision as well.
"It's just very small, I'm all about small," West explained. "Love the coaching staff and I just feel like it will be a very good home for me."
Pippenger and West also added that having a familiar face on the team would be a great way to get used to college life.
"I think it'll really make things easier," Pippenger said. "Going up there, far away from home."
On the educational side, Pippenger plans to become a physician's assistant. West is preparing to go in as pre-vet with the goal of going to veterinary school.
Both players were very thankful to many people who supported them over the years to get to this point, including their family members and various coaches.
"Just everybody who's been there to support me in the past," West said. "I really appreciate it and I'm very grateful."