From Little League to big time

Jennifer Bazylak and Rachel Dehlinger

They got their start in the Destin Little League program, and now they are ready to take it to the next level.

Two Fort Walton Beach Vikings Jennifer Bazylak and Rachael Dehlinger recently signed letters of intent to play college softball next year.

Bazylak goes south

Jennifer Bazylak, 17, daughter of Dave and Michelle Bazylak, signed to play ball at St. Petersburg College.

"It was my first and only visit," Bazylak said. "The environment was a good fit for me. It's not a big school and I really, really like my coach."

Plus with it being a smaller school, Bazylak hopes to get a lot of playing time.

Bazylak's first days on the ball field were on the Tee-ball field at Dalton Threadgill Little League playing for the Pirates. She moved up through the ranks of Little League and then to Destin Middle School where she played for the Marlins softball team. As a Marlin, she was part of the 2009 Okaloosa County Championship Team and made the All-County Team selections in 2008 and 2009.

Over the years, she has also played for three travel teams, High Intensity, Sudden Impact and West Florida Elite in the summer.

The next step was playing softball at Fort Walton Beach High as a Viking. She made the team as a freshman.

"I started in the outfield, but I've been moved around every where," she said.

Right now, she is manning centerfield for the Vikings.

"I like the outfield best, because I like being out there and diving for the ball. I've made more catches in practice than at games," Bazylak said, noting the situation doesn't present itself that often.

Last year as a Viking, Bazylak batted .325, scored 15 runs, connected for 25 hits and had five RBIs.

"I'm usually leadoff or the second batter," Bazylak said, pointing to her bunting skills.

But before she steps into the dugout she turns on the tunes of Justin Bieber.

"I just got to go to one of his  concerts in Orlando. We had good seats, it was a lot of fun."

The song that gets her going is "Never Say Never Again."

"That's a good motto to go by," she said.

Bazylak is looking forward to making the move to St. Petersburg.

"There's a lot of things around there to do," she said, such as Busch Gardens and Disney World. "I'm very excited to go. It's going to be a big step, but I can't wait for it to get here."

Dehlinger goes north

Rachael Dehlinger, 17, daughter of Pat and Linda Dehlinger, has signed with Birmingham Southern.

"The minute I went through the gates, I knew this is where I wanted to go," Dehlinger said of her first visit. "It felt right ... small but nice."

Dehlinger said the icing on the cake for her was that when she went for her visit, "they had my name tag on a parking spot."

The coaches of Birmingham Southern had seen her play in a tournament in Birmingham during the summer.

"I hit a home run that game and I was striking people out," she said, noting it was one of her better games.

And Dehlinger has played in a lot of games. She started with Tee-ball at age five.

But by age 9 or 10, she had thoughts of quitting ball to try cheering or something else. But a coach named Barry said, "you need to stick with it ... you're a natural. He said I needed to try pitching."

Dehlinger tried it, liked it and the rest is history.

From Little League to travel teams such as High Intensity, Sudden Impact and West Florida Elite, to Destin Middle School, Dehlinger has manned the pitching circle.

Dehlinger, like Bazylak, was part of that Destin Marlin team that won the County Championship in 2009 and was named to the All-County Team in 2008 and 2009.

"I like pitching ... not necessarily being the center of attention, but when it's close and the seventh inning, I like the suspense it creates," she said. "I like the challenge. It's not easy and it takes a lot of practice."

Dehlinger practices a couple of hours a day, about six days a week.

Dehlinger made the varsity team at Fort Walton Beach as a freshman, and the game against Niceville that ninth grade year still sticks with her.

She didn't start that day as pitcher, but with the game neck-and-neck, she was brought in to finish.

"It was so emotional ... I was a freshman and I was young," she said. And although the Vikings didn't win, "I remember everybody telling me I did a good job."

"It's hard when you first go in to get in a rhythm. I usually need to have one inning to get into a rhythm," Dehlinger said.

Last year, Dehlinger batted .354, scored 11 runs, connected for 29 hits and 14 RBIs. As pitcher she threw 123 innings, gave up 101 hits, 118 strike outs and 33 walks.

And to get her pumped and ready to play — "I have to have my music. I hate to say it, but it's rap ... it gets me going."