PACE, Fla. (BVM) – Since she first stepped foot on the softball field while growing up in Tennessee, Jayden Heavener had an unmatched love for the sport. It’s that love and passion, mixed with some elite skill, that has Heavener ranked as one of the nation’s top softball prospects in the Class of 2024.
It also has the left-handed pitcher set up for a bright future playing at the collegiate level. After seeing her elite skill set, many of the nation’s top programs have been after Heavener over the past few years, creating an overwhelming recruiting process at times.
“It was very stressful,” Heavener said. “But it wasn’t too much for me, I felt like I was pretty prepared. It was stressful knowing I’d get the calls, but hoping I’d get the calls that I wanted.”
One of the first calls Heavener received was one she was hoping she would get for quite some time. Ever since attending a camp in Baton Rouge, Louisiana a few years ago, the star pitcher had her focus on playing at LSU someday.
“Once I went to that camp, I really loved it,” Heavener said. “I loved the coaches, I loved the amount of attention that I got. All of the girls that were there got a lot of attention. The facilities, and just everything that was there … Something about it just really drew my attention to it. Ever since then, I’ve always paid attention to LSU. I just loved it even more every time I went there.”
As a result, once Heavener received a call from the Tigers, she knew her future was set.
I’m so excited to announce that l have decided to further my academic and athletic career at Louisiana State University.
— Jayden Heavener (@JaydenHeavener) September 2, 2022
“I’ve always been looking at LSU,” Heavener added. “Once I got the call from LSU, that’s where I knew I would go.”
Heavener still has over a year until she will head down to Baton Rouge, but the sky’s the limit once she gets there, evidenced by what she has already accomplished in her young softball career.
Growing up, the star pitcher played for the Birmingham Thunderbolts, becoming more and more serious in the sport as the years went on.
“That’s when I got coached to what I needed to be, and got to play around the players that are just as high of caliber, or even higher than me,” Heavener mentioned.
Eventually, her travel career led her to her current team, Virginia Unity, a program that has not only helped her further develop her abilities as a pitcher, but also has allowed her to improve on the mental aspect of the position as she prepares for the next level.
“These coaches, they’ve known me for a really long time,” Heavener said. “I feel like they’ve helped me improve so much, especially mentally, and just being able to apply what I know to the game.”
Between the fall season of 2021 and the summer of 2022, Heavener went 26-3 with a 0.73 ERA and 274 strikeouts for Virginia Unity. While those are certainly some staggering numbers, they don’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has also watched her high school career.
A very composed pitcher in the circle, Heavener was admittedly nervous going into her first season at Pace High School. However, as she settled in, the lefty proved her elite talent, going 11-3 with a 1.57 ERA and 252 strikeouts. Her success led her to win Florida’s Class 5A Pitcher of the Year award while leading her team on a run to the state semifinals.
“Going into high school as a freshman, I was pretty nervous, just worried about anything you can think of,” Heavener said. “But whenever I started playing with the girls that I do, or some of the older girls, I just knew that they were going to help me get through my freshman year. I feel like it was a lot more laid back than I assumed it would be … Once I got to the middle of the season, I was really just comfortable and I love the girls that I was playing with.”
By sophomore year, Heavener began developing more confidence. It resulted in a season in which she went an impressive 16-2 with a 0.60 ERA, 300 strikeouts and eight no-hitters while also batting .391 with eight home runs at the plate. Once again, she led the Patriots to the state semifinals while also being named a first-team All-American by Extra Inning Softball.
“I just knew that if they had confidence in me, I should have my own confidence,” Heavener said. “By sophomore year, I grew a little bit.”
As good as Heavener was in her sophomore season, she has been even more dominant as a junior, which she credits to the work she put in over the offseason when it comes to her mechanics and focusing on all of the little things it takes to be successful.
Getting better every day 💜💛@SharonOmara22 @unity_json_ross @softball_Pace @LSUsoftball @BethTorina @LLefty18 @HWDobson @ExtraInningSB @LegacyLegendsS1 @outsidethechute @PG_Softball @PGFnetwork @Los_Stuff @BrenttEads @MaxPreps @FloSoftball #GeauxTigers pic.twitter.com/VPvayqfBTG
— Jayden Heavener (@JaydenHeavener) January 15, 2023
Early on in the year, Heavener’s work paid off, as she set the tone for the season with two perfect games and a no-hitter in Pace’s first three contests.
JAYDEN HEAVENER with another “PERFECT” game!! 18 BF with 17 Ks and a pop out. Pace wins 18-0 in 6 innings. Tatum and Jayden with a couple 💣💣, 20 total hits by 13 different kids!!! @pnj_sports @pnj @srpressgazette @MaxPreps @SBLiveFL @ExtraInningSB pic.twitter.com/NEURMseSAN
— Pace High School Softball (@softball_Pace) March 1, 2023
“I was just going into this season hoping that I could be there for my team,” Heavener said. “Once we started, once we played in the Panama City Tournament, I feel like I started it off pretty well for my team.”
One of Heavener’s other big milestones this season was recently hitting the 750-strikeout mark in less than three seasons, putting her on pace to easily make it 1,000 career punch outs next year.
Congratulations to JAYDEN HEAVENER for reaching ”750” career strikeouts!!! She hit the 757 mark last night! 🏆@srpressgazette @pnj_sports @MaxPreps @SBLiveFL @LegacyLegendsS1 @ExtraInningSB pic.twitter.com/4W4sITIcEY
— Pace High School Softball (@softball_Pace) April 25, 2023
“I really didn’t focus on my strikeout count until my mom told me that I hit 750 in one of the games,” Heavener said. “I feel like during the offseason I put in a lot of work. Coming into the high school season, I knew my work would pay off.
“Looking at it now, I’m really proud of myself for knowing that I’ve been able to critique little things and get to where I’m at now, and hopefully by my senior year hit that 1,000 mark.”
However, anyone that knows Heavener knows her biggest focus is the team. Recently, Pace won its third-consecutive district championship, a game in which Heavener had a home run and five RBIs as well as four strikeouts as a relief pitcher.
My Team ❤️💙District Champs pic.twitter.com/ptSs95qtQJ
— Jayden Heavener (@JaydenHeavener) May 4, 2023
“Our girls knew that we had the game and we just had to stay confident in ourselves and just get those runs in,” Heavener said. “I feel like our pitchers this year, me and Mallory [Baker], have been really working together and just keeping it tight in the circle. And our at-bats have been really good, just keeping those runs coming in each inning.”
Now, with what Heavener believes is a better mental focus than in past years, the Patriots, ranked in the top 10 nationally by MaxPreps, will look to finish the job at state this time around.
“I feel like the girls haven’t really changed,” Heavener said. “We know that we have the people and the talent to win every year … I feel like this year, we’ll be able to get further.”
No matter what happens to close out the 2023 season, there is no doubt that Heavener is creating a special legacy at Pace, one which she hopes to continue building as she gets stronger and further grows as a leader in her senior season.
“I’m hoping to just continue staying strong as a pitcher,” Heavener said. “Just to be a stronger pitcher, a stronger person mentally and physically on the field, and be there for my players. And just be able to back them up whenever I can when I’m batting or even as a pitcher. I know I can now, but I can be better any place.”
Not only has Heavener added to the success of the Pace softball program, but she is also adding to her family’s history in the sport. Her older sister, Lauren, is a former softball player herself who also played in college at Austin Peay. While there is a substantial age gap between the two, Jayden is thankful Lauren has been there for her every step of the way.
“I feel like we’ve both learned a lot as I’ve been playing,” Jayden said. “She’s also been like a second mom to me and just talking to me about the things that I can do or just being there to listen whenever I have something to talk about. She’s always been the person that I look up to mentally.”
While there’s plenty on the horizon for Jayden, right now, she is set on the here and now. Currently, that’s proving why she is the No. 1-ranked player in the Class of 2024 by Legacy & Legends Softball, something she is thankful for, but not focused on when she’s out on the field.
“I feel like I stay pretty humble within myself,” Jayden said. “I really don’t look at the numbers as much as you would think I do … I don’t really focus on that very much, as much as I do just playing the game.
“I do work for my accomplishments and am very thankful for them. But that’s not the only thing that I’m focused on.”
As much as Jayden is focused on what she can accomplish right now, the excitement of playing for LSU will only continue to grow over the next year. Joining a talented SEC program is something special, and the Pace pitcher is determined to bring success to the Tigers in the near future.
“I just know that I’m going to have a really good time there,” Jayden said. “My goals are really just to have fun, be a team player and not really stress out about too much. Just living the college experience as a softball player. And hopefully winning an SEC championship while I’m there.
“I’m so excited to be a Tiger and go there, and get to experience what all these girls are getting to experience and go through.”