03/12/2010 - Softball soothes star pitcher\'s pain
Staff photo by MICHAEL SPOONEYBARGER
Kayla Cox has dealt with death, illness and the division of her family, but somehow has managed to become Hillsborough County's top softball pitcher.
Kayla Cox signs her national letter-of-intent to play softball at North Carolina State. Pictured in the photo are Kayla Cox, seated, and from top left, her mother, Sharon Davis, her grandmother, Betty Miller, and her sister, Leah. Crouching next to Kayla is East Bay softball coach, Glenn Rodriguez. Man at right is unidentified.
Staff file photo by CHRIS URSO
East Bay's Kayla Cox delivers a pitch against Countryside during the sixth inning Tuesday, April 28, 2009 in Countryside.
Her defining competitiveness, however, is but a layer. Beneath the stoic glare she gives opposing batters hides an ordinary 18-year-old girl coping with grief.
Cox has dealt with death, illness and the division of her family, but somehow has managed to become Hillsborough County's top softball pitcher.
Her parents divorced when she was a toddler. When she was 7, Cox and her brother Josh, who is one year older, moved in with their grandparents, Jack and Betty Miller. The family decided it was the best situation for the children. Two
were put into foster care, but have since been adopted. Cox said she doesn't know their location, but knows they are loved.
The Millers have essentially raised Cox, despite dealing with health issues of their own.
suffers from emphysema, and eight years ago
underwent quadruple gastric bypass surgery. Cox said her parents are still a part of her life. In November, when Cox signed a Division I scholarship to play for North Carolina State, her mother, Sharon Davis, and older sister, Leah, were at her side.
was there, too.
In the past two years, she's lost two siblings. Her eldest brother, Chris, died of causes Cox did not want to disclose. A year after his death, her eldest sister, Nicole, died in a car accident. When she learned of her death, Cox was out west for a
tournament. Both siblings were in their 20s.
"It was hard," she said. "I tried to move on from it."
Yet tragedy struck again for Cox and her family, as her mother has been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Now at stage 4, it is untreatable.
"She can pass away at any moment," Cox said.
But amid a family stricken with grief, a beacon of joy has come from Cox's success on the softball field. Cox, a 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, was named the 2009
Hillsborough County Softball Athlete of the Year after leading the county with 267 strikeouts. She went 12-8 on the mound with a 0.85 ERA while carrying East Bay to its first playoff berth since 2005.
"We're so proud of her," said Betty Miller, 67. "She's accomplished so much playing softball and it's made her proud of what she did and it's made her family proud."
Her junior season included a 13-inning, 31-strikeout performance against Brandon and a 12-inning, 21-strikeout game against Bloomingdale. Cox walked off the field against Brandon with bloody fingers. She was more upset about her team losing 1-0.
And if the bloody fingers didn't affirm her dedication to the sport, after spending two weeks in the hospital with flu symptoms, pneumonia and bronchitis last year, the day after she was released, Cox led the Indians to a 4-1 win over district rival Durant.
"On the field, she wants to be the best and she wants people to see why she's the best," East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez said.
Softball reigns supreme
Cox is also an honor roll student, despite being told she has dyslexia. She's passionate about art and actively attends church. However, softball reigns supreme.
"Softball is my escape," she said. "I de-stress myself while playing. I don't hear the cheering, all I see is the catcher."
"Softball has been her medicine," Miller said.
Rodriguez said he admires his star pitcher's perseverance.
"She's battled through a lot where most kids would have given up," he said. "If it wasn't for softball, I think she would have had a hard time dealing with everything."
Cox is determined to lead her team to a state title this season. Although her life has been filled with obstacles, she feels blessed.
"I think making it through has made me really strong," she said. "In college, I'll be able to deal with anything. I can't wait to see what the future holds for me."