Arkansas Shortstop Braxton Burnside Blossoms Into Superstar
Braxton Burnside has done nothing but impress.
As a graduate shortstop this season, Burnside has definitely displayed her talent for the nation to witness with Arkansas. After last season was canceled in the blink of an eye, Burnside acknowledged that she developed a new appreciation for softball.
Early this season, Burnside has blossomed into a superstar, as she has produced 15 home runs and 34 RBI with a .410 batting average through 23 games. With those stats, she's helped the Razorbacks rank fourth in the nation in RBI.
Burnside recently had an 18-day stretch with 13 home runs, which she capped with four home runs and seven RBI in a series sweep over South Carolina.
“That is everyone’s first question, ‘What did you eat for breakfast?’” Burnside said. “I think it all comes down to preparation, and every time I step into the box, I feel super prepared for anything that the pitcher will throw at me. I just try to make sure that I am swinging at strikes and swinging at the pitch that I want, and whenever I get that pitch, I am just capitalizing.”
Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel has certainly been pleased with what Burnside has brought to No. 14 Arkansas this season.
“Who hasn’t been impressed by her?” Deifel said. “More than anything, she is an incredible softball player. I think that the offensive production that she has put up thus far hasn’t surprised us at all. … Her teammates and as a staff, we get to watch her every day and we see that this is absolutely what she is capable of.
“We have high expectations for her because she earned that every day.”
Deifel added that when Burnside steps into the box, there is just a different feeling in the stadium with the confidence she relays and the pressure she brings to an opposing pitcher in her at-bat.
“It is something that we just can’t measure,” Deifel said. “I just think that when you feel her presence and see her numbers, and she steps in the box and she doesn’t stretch her zone very much. She knows exactly what she is hunting and she swings with intent every time, so as a pitcher and as a defense, you have to bring your best and that brings a ton of pressure.”
Deifel also describes Burnside as simply an incredible human on and off the field, who sets the tone for the Razorbacks, specifically by how she studies the game and communicates with her teammates.
“When she watches pitchers, she watches them a little differently than everybody else, and she is just able to relay that information,” Deifel said. “It not only prepares our team, but it gives them so much confidence.”
With all of her early success, though, Burnside already nears rarefied air within the Arkansas program, as she sits just three home runs away from the single-season record former Razorback star Nicole Schroeder set in 2017 with 17.
Before this season, Burnside had 20 home runs in her career, including 15 in two seasons with Missouri before she transferred to Arkansas.
Arkansas still has 25 regular season games left on its schedule and the entire 2021 postseason, which bodes well for Burnside to etch her name into the Razorback history books.
Burnside would be elated to break that record, even though it isn’t her focus right now.
“It would mean the world to me, just doing this for Arkansas and getting to be able to play with Arkansas across my chest,” Burnside said. “I take a lot of pride in that. To be completely honest, though, I am not trying to look a whole lot into it. It is hard for me to know that I am that close. It is going to be in the back of my mind with each at-bat that I have.”
Burnside also has an opportunity to break the RBI record that redshirt-junior Hannah McEwen set with 57 in 2018 as a freshman. Not to mention, she could be within reach to break another record that McEwen set in 2019 with a .386 batting average for the season.
Thanks to Burnside's gaudy stats, Schroeder has had her eye on the shortstop all season.
“She is a stud,” Schroeder said. “I am really impressed.”
Although she is honored to have set the standard, Schroeder isn’t worried about her single-season home run record. Schroeder added that she would be extremely happy for Burnside to set a new Razorback record.
“I don’t know her personally, but I have heard nothing but good things about her, and how much of a leader that she is and how she is as a player,” Schroeder said. “… She deserves it.”
And Arkansas could have its star back for next season, given the extra season that student-athletes were given due to COVID-19.
“It is in the back of my mind, I will be honest,” Burnside said about returning next season. “I am just rolling with the punches that I am given this season, and wherever my heart is at the end of the season, that will be the time I make my final decision.”
Nonetheless, Deifel continued to speak glowingly about what her superstar has already accomplished this season.
“I can’t even put into words how proud I am, just for those numbers,” Deifel said. “But, it is not just the numbers. It is the everyday mindset. She just goes to work to be the best version of herself. Those numbers don’t happen if she is not committed to being her absolute best, and that is what you see in Braxton in every practice.”