BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
One of the nation’s top 2024 softball players is so excited about the future of Razorback softball that she decided to come across the country to play collegiately.
Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon senior pitcher/infielder Payton Burnham, a first-team Extra Innings Softball All-American, committed to Arkansas two weeks ago as she flipped her pledge from Oregon State to the Razorbacks.
Burham (30-1, 0.19 ERA as a junior) took an official visit Sept. 14-16 to Arkansas, a program that will finish up its fall Razorbacks Unlimited scrimmages Thursday night at 5:30 p.m. at Bogle Park.
“The people are amazing at Arkansas and I absolutely fell in love with Fayetteville and the people,” Burnham said recently. “My original plan was to try and go away from home and it was just finding the right situation and the right people and the right program for me. I think I have found that in Arkansas.
“I am excited and I think it will be a good adventure.”
Burnham is coming off a dominant junior season in which she had 375 strikeouts in 186 innings of mound work.
The Oregon 2023 Gatorade Player of the Year, Burnham also hit .404 with 5 home runs, 35 RBIs and a .674 slugging percentage for her state championship winning squad.
Burnham is high on Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel and her assistants.
“They are awesome and great people,” Burnham said. “I loved getting to hang out with them and getting to know them. The more that I got to know them, the more I wanted to play for them. They are amazing.”
Burnham thinks that can help her develop as a pitching prospect under Deifel, whose program has won at least 40 games in each of the last six seasons.
“She is a phenomenal pitching coach and a phenomenal person,” Burnham said. “She is someone that I am eager to learn from and wants to be a part of that pitching staff with her.”
The SEC is regarded as one of the nation’s best conferences, something that will be elevated even more with the additions of defending national Oklahoma and Texas next season.
Deifel and her staff have been landed numerous commits in the past few weeks, including a quartet of 2025 standouts in Woodlawn pitcher Lillie-Faye McWhorter, Rockville (TN) Eaglesville catcher Brinli Bain, Minocqua (WI) Lakeland Union pitcher Saylor Timmerman and League City (Texas) Clear Creek outfielder Khamani Hall.
Bain is ranked fifth, Hall sixth, Timmerman eighth and McWhorter 27th in Extra Innings Softball rankings of the best junior nationally.
“The SEC is probably the best conference in the nation right now,” Burnham said. “Getting to play at the highest level is a dream and with so much talent ion the program is a dream come true for me.”
Burnham says she will spend her senior year trying to help her team repeat as state champ and preparing to arrive in Fayetteville as the best version of herself.
“I am just wanting to make sure I am in the best shape possible, taking care of myself by getting in the gym and just progressing through all my training,” Burnham said. “Then I want to come in, get to know the girls and just get ready to rock and roll.”
Burnham noted that she loves to compete.
“I think my biggest strength is that I am just an all out competitor as I will do whatever it takes to win,” Burnham said. “I think I am a great team player and like to play as a team.”
Burnham joins a 2024 class that also includes utility star Ella Dowell of Richmond, Texas, right handed pitcher Lexi King of Windemere, Fla., P/1B Cameryn Harrison of Richmond, Texas, outfielders Ava Carter of Green County Tech, Ashtyn Reichardt of Katy, Texas, and Ramsey Walker of Shreveport (LA) Cavalry Baptist and Fresno (CA) Central first baseman Jayden Ramos.
Photo courtesy of Payton Burnham