Buck Stops Here
I’ve seen some great season comebacks in 55 years of following sports.
I saw the 1964 Cardinals win the pennant and World Series after a terrific run to the finish, complemented by a Philadelphia Phillies, 10-game loss nosedive.
I also saw the 1981 San Francisco 49ers go 1-2 to start the season and then lose only one more game on their way to a Super Bowl victory.
However, I have never witnessed a more dramatic season turnaround at any level than the Louisiana softball team’s march to its first-ever district championship last week.
The team stood 0-15 after the first game of their own tournament in late September. Anyone who said they would become the district champs three weeks later would have been considered a fool.
What was so frustrating to the coaches, fans and players was that this team had talent. But errors were plaguing them and they running into one good pitcher after another.
There were some long faces after those defeats, but the Lady Bulldogs never quit and that’s the message here.
Instead of continuing the loss string, the Lady Bulldogs won their first two games of the season in the middle rounds of their own tournament and captured the consolation trophy.
It reinforced the notion that home-field advantage is real and the team had salvaged their pride. But then the girls lost their next two games in a row.
At that point, the Lady Bulldogs could have quit, but they didn’t.
When the team traveled to Clopton on Sept. 30, I figured I might be going home early after a 10-run, five-inning game.
But the Lady Bulldogs proved me wrong, beating the Lady Hawks 6-2, to start a six-game win streak to the district crown.
It was fitting when the team unveiled the revamped Firemen’s Field at Wallace Park with a first-round district tourney win over Lutheran St. Charles, 7-3.
Lousiana looked like a different team, fielding well and hitting in a timely fashion to hold up pitcher Kaitlyn VanHooser, who was on a roll.
Still, the Lady Bulldogs had to face the Elsberry Lady Indians in the second round. Elsberry had already beat them three times and you had to wonder.
Louisiana took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning and saw it evaporate to a 2-1 deficit.
But the Lady Bulldogs didn’t quit.
With the game on the line, Molly Ross ripped a double down the line to score two runs, enough to hold up for the win.
It had been a nail-biter, but the championship game was no less entertaining.
After Caitlin Bolton blasted a two-run homer in the first inning against Montgomery County, it looked good. Three more runs in the third inning made it 5-0, and it appeared to be a cruise to an easy win.
That changed abruptly when the early-season errors showed up again. VanHooser was starting to having trouble throwing strikes and Montgomery County tied the game in the fourth inning.
But the Lady Bulldogs didn’t quit.
In the last inning, Bolton singled to score Denise Blackwell. VanHooser had regained her form, got three quick outs and the district championship was theirs.
As the Lady Bulldogs shrieked with delight and held their trophy aloft, I saw something that spoke to the emotions of the season and the moment.
Louisiana Athletic Director Curtis Hendrickson was wiping tears off his cheeks and grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
The next day, I ran into Bolton at the Applefest in Clarksville. I congratulated her on the team’s district victory and her performance in the championship game.
She smiled and simply said, “Thanks. It was fun.”
In the end, high school sports is supposed to be just that. It’s also about learning to never give up on anything in life, no matter what the odds.