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Baker’s power, Cypress’ speed lift Keiser University softball

Keiser University softball players Darlah Cypress, left, and Jaryaca Baker take a break in between games of a doubleheader April 1 against Ave Maria University.
Keiser University softball players Darlah Cypress, left, and Jaryaca Baker take a break in between games of a doubleheader April 1 against Ave Maria University.

WEST PALM BEACH — Jaryaca Baker brings the thunder; Darlah Cypress provides the lightning. Together, the two players from the Brighton Reservation have settled into their first seasons on the Keiser University softball team.

“They’ve done a great job at it,” Keiser coach Chelsea Nowell said.

Keiser’s season wrapped up April 24. Baker, a power-hitting catcher, finished among the team leaders in several offensive categories, including a tie for most home runs with five. Her .531 slugging percentage was second on the squad and she was third in RBIs with 15. Cypress – described by her coach as the team’s fastest player – was third on the squad in steals with three in limited playing time as a rookie.

Less than a year ago, the possibility of Baker and Cypress playing college softball anywhere, let alone the same team, seemed remote. After playing for two other colleges, Baker had taken a year off. Meanwhile, Cypress concluded a stellar high school career in which she helped Moore Haven reach the state’s final four twice, but she was uncertain about continuing her education. Eventually, their desire to keep playing softball helped point them 90 miles east of Brighton to Keiser, which took over the West Palm Beach campus from Northwood University in 2015.

“I wasn’t too sure even about going to college, but I wanted to keep playing softball and I wanted to get into psychology,” Cypress said during a break between games of a doubleheader against Ave Maria University on April 1.
Baker, who has shared catcher duties and played first base, and Cypress, who has played left and right field, said they’re glad they both landed at Keiser.

“It’s different from the (junior college) I was at, but I like it,” Baker said.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t still playing softball,” Cypress said.
Baker, a 21-year-old sophomore, arrived at Keiser with college softball experience on her resume. The former Okeechobee High School slugger, who hit 12 home runs in her senior season in 2013, previously played for a junior colleges in Oklahoma and Florida.

Baker made an immediate impact on the team by slamming a 3-run home run in the team’s second exhibition game of the season. When the regular season started in early February, Baker looked right at home with her new team by driving in five runs in her first two games. She continued to deliver the long ball with home runs against Indiana Southeast, Middle Georgia, Cleary, Grandview and St. Thomas.

Belting the ball out of parks isn’t Baker’s main objective; she said she strives just to get on base regardless of where the ball goes. That’s why she’s as proud of her on-base percentage (.393) as she is of her home run total.

“I feel like I’ve always been a stronger hitter, but I’ve matured a little bit more,” said Baker, who hit safely in eight of 11 games during a stretch from mid-March to mid-April and finished with a .308 batting average.

Behind the plate, Baker could be in line for more playing time next season.

“I can see Jaryaca catching a lot more. We have a senior catcher this year, so our senior catcher sees a lot behind the plate,” Nowell said.

Cypress, one of four freshmen, hasn’t seen nearly the same amount of playing time as Baker, but has made an impact when opportunities come about. She had two-hit games against Cleary, St. Thomas and Ave Maria and finished with a .308 batting average in 26 trips.

“I get on base and do what I can and make plays as much as I can,” she said. “I’m doing my best. I just have to keep working hard.”

On April 7, Baker and Cypress delivered two hits apiece to help Keiser edge St. Thomas, 4-3, in Miami Gardens. Baker scored a run and Cypress stole a base.

Keiser started the season by winning six of its first 10 games, but struggled during stretches and finished with a 15-25 mark.

The Seahawks belong to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and play in the eight-team Sun Conference with schools from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

“It’s really competitive,” Baker said while her family’s mammoth Great Dane, Jax, drew plenty of attention from spectators at the Ave Maria game. “It’s a lot different. It’s more fast-paced. (Junior college) was kind of like high school still, you’re just adjusting. I feel the NAIA is closer to the NCAA.”

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at