PACE — Ryleigh Baker's dad stood on the edge of the happy crowd.

During an April 22 ceremony in the Pace High School gym, Bobby Baker watched his daughter sign a letter of intent to attend William Carey University on a softball scholarship.

"It's a happy day and a sad day all at once," Bobby said. Sending off their oldest child into the world is bittersweet, he added.

The family traveled with Ryleigh during her visit to the private Christian college in Hattiesburg, Miss. that competes athletically in the NAIA.

"We were impressed with the coaching staff and the head coach is a great man," Bobby said, adding that his daughter made the right choice for college.

"I had a few offers from other schools," she said. "I really liked the (WCU) coach (Craig Fletcher), and they have a very family-friendly atmosphere."

"She had a lot of offers," her dad said. "There were even a couple of Division I schools looking at her, but after every visit she would come back and talk about William Carey."

At the signing ceremony, Ryleigh Baker had a constant smile and was cordial as she moved from group to group saying hello and taking photos.

Ryleigh has played third base for the Patriots varsity softball team for four years. She injured her shoulder this year and has surgery scheduled for May.

Despite the setback, WCU head coach Craig Fletcher said Ryleigh should be ready for her first college season.

For now, Ryleigh has been cleared by her doctor to finish out the season with the Patriots, her father said — something Ryleigh is happy to do.