For the Carroll County residents who didn’t make the trip to Lynchburg this weekend, it would be hard to describe the pure feeling of utter joy and pandemonium Saturday.
As soon as the Cavalier softball team recorded the final out, Kamphuis Field absolutely went berserk. Carroll County fans who had waited 46 years for a team state championship finally got it as the team held on for a 1-0 victory over Woodgrove. And man, did the Cavalier fans ever play a huge role in this title.
After the game, head coach Rick Nester and several of the players talked about the incredible atmosphere the Cavalier faithful provided for the team. Carroll fans literally outnumbered Deep Creek and Woodgrove 10 to 1. In all, there had to be more Cavalier fans in Lynchburg than the other three 4-A schools combined. Talk about a 10th man, wow!
On a personal note, my hands were literally shaking at the end of both games. Both were nail-biters that certainly weren’t for the weak at heart. But like they have done all season, the Cavaliers found a way to get it done.
The team did not make a single error in its eight postseason games from the start of the Conference 24 playoffs until the state title game. Also during that eight-game stretch, the Cavs outscored opponents 64-5. It takes everybody working as a team to accomplish those sorts of lofty accomplishments.
It may sound cliché, but this year’s Carroll County softball team epitomized just that – TEAM. After the Deep Creek win, Nester talked about how everybody in the Cavaliers’ lineup, from one to nine in the batting order, always seemed to step up when other parts of the lineup didn’t.
And it didn’t have to be with the bat.
Take senior outfielder Tiffanie Moore for instance. The team’s leadoff hitter, Moore generally is the sparkplug for this team. The Greensboro recruit almost always gets on base. She is second on the team in runs. During the two state games, she went 0-for-8, however. But when the bat wasn’t working, Moore contributed in other ways, making an incredible diving catch in the fourth inning of the state championship game to save an extra-base hit.
Morgan Tompkins batted ninth in the order both state games, but came up with a huge RBI grounder to the pitcher to tie the Deep Creek semifinal at 1-all when the Cavs were struggling early.
There was Gracie Davidson hitting a big RBI double to put Carroll ahead 3-1 against Deep Creek She also hammered a Woodgrove pitch in the first inning Saturday, proving to the Cavaliers they could hit the Wolverines’ ace Camryn Dolby, even after she hurled a two-hit shutout against the Cavs exactly one week earlier.
Perhaps Davidson’s biggest contribution has been her unselfishness. Having previously served as the team’s number one pitcher, she didn’t sulk or cause drama when a hot-shot freshman by the name of Sydney Nester came along to take her spot. Davidson just moved over to second base and had herself a whale of a season while her team – there’s that word again – benefitted.
Of course, Sydney Nester’s contributions were undeniable. While she had been nearly untouchable most of the season, the Cavalier freshman turned into a stone cold killer in the championship game, mowing down hitters from the defending state champions like dominos.
There were players that stepped up. After starting catcher Kyndall Hiatt, the team’s leading hitter, went down with an eye injury after the Conference 24 championship win over Jefferson Forest, Caitlin Horton stepped right in and did a fantastic job behind the plate. With the tying run on first base against Deep Creek in the fifth inning, she gunned down Ryn Boelter trying to steal second. After reaching on an error in the fifth inning of the same game, she also scored the team’s third run that proved to be the winner against the Hornets.
First baseman Emily Cook had a hit in both state tournament games. Even underclassmen who didn’t get as much playing time, such as Kayla Robinson, made the most of their opportunities. The junior came in and had big pinch hits at key times. In fact, without her, Rick Nester pointed out, Carroll would not have went undefeated during the regular season. Think back to the Cavaliers’ miraculous 7-6 win over Cave Spring on May 1. Down by two with two outs, Robinson came in and hit a two-run single to center to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. Later, she scored the winning run on Moore’s double.
Seniors Hannah Dalton, Sydney Childress and Cheyenne Strickland all had big state tournaments, leading the way for the team’s underclassmen, much as they did during the regular season.
Going back to Dalton, she had perhaps the biggest play in school athletics’ history when she perfectly executed the pickle play in the fifth inning against Woodgrove. By getting herself in a rundown, it allowed teammate Jeannie Utt to score unquestionably the biggest run in school history.
Utt was one of a handful of players that moved up from the JV team at the end of their season to provide boosts to the varsity. Another JV call-up, Alexis Meredith, served as a base runner at times and put down a critical bunt in the Jefferson Forest win in the Conf. 24 final. Katie McKenzie, another JV player, had a big double against Hidden Valley at the end of the regular season. Nester said big things were expected out of freshman Elizabeth Combs before she got hurt.
And then of course there was the brilliant coaching of Nester, who time and time again made the right call at exactly the right moment. The pickle play against Woodgrove completely caught the Wolverines offguard. During the play, you could see the sheer frustration on the faces of the Woodgrove coaching staff when the realization set in of what was happening. It almost happened again on the hidden ball play in the seventh inning. And then, of course, there was Coach Nester’s wily move to keep Woodgrove from seeing his ace of the same name in the regional final, saving his biggest gun for the state championship.
People are already talking about Carroll County repeating as champions in the coming years with Nester back for three more seasons and a relatively young lineup. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s just remember how hard state titles are to come by. The late, great Carroll baseball coach Bill Worrell is a Hall of Fame coach and was considered one of the best in the state. Yet the ultimate prize eluded him during his illustrious career. The fact is, state titles take an incredible amount of talent and some luck along the way. If anything, the past 46 years should have taught us that, so let’s just savor and enjoy this one for the moment.