Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tradition never graduates--ain't it wonderful? (& other ramblings)

Are these ladies terrific or what? The 2009 Lady Lions softball season was another brick in the wall of consecutive great seasons. We came in having to replace three of the best players in program history. Yes, Jesi McMillan, Chasidy Tucker and Nicole McGuff, I'm talking about you. These warriors started as a unit for five years. Instead of throwing up their hands and surrendering, Coach and the girls regarded 2009 as a challenge and went to work. That hard work and a winning attitude resulted in another great season.

How good of a season was it? Let's look at it from a 20-20 hindsight point of view. We finished with 27 wins and 11 losses. That's a 71% winning percentage. Only that dadgum James Spann kept us from winning 30 games for the fourth time in 5 years. The first half of the season was wetter than the dance floor on the Titanic. All our rain-outs were against teams we would have been favored over. But that's neither here nor there. The hard facts are as follows:
  1. We finished #4 in the final ASWA 1A state poll, our highest ranking ever.
  2. The Lady Lions won the NAC Tournament for the third time in 4 years. We won at Vina in 2006, Berry in 2007, and at Hackleburg this year. That's an excellent achievement, ladies. Congratulations and thank you.
When you add in the NAC basketball championship we won earlier in the year, this was one of the best years in Lady Lion history. And at this school, that's saying something. Also, a good barometer of our season is who we beat. Look at it, we beat 3A state tournament semi-finalist Carbon Hill twice, 1A state tournament runner-up South Lamar twice, top ten and 1A state tournament team Lynn twice, a very good Parrish team three times, and an outstanding Ragland team in the North Central Regional. Equally telling is who you lose to. Of our 11 losses, 8 of them were to: 3A Sumiton Christian (another state tournament team), Carbon Hill, South Lamar, Lynn and Ragland. No sisters of the poor there--these were all really good teams. Only a very close loss in the "who goes to the state tournament game" in the North Central Regional at Vestavia Hills kept us from a third straight trip to Montgomery.

I really don't know where to begin talking about our seniors. They've been so good, so dedicated, for so long. Jamie, Tiffany and Brooke join Jesi Mac, Bug and Nicole on the list of the very best in our fast-pitch history. Jamie was a 5-year starter in the outfield. Excellent defensively, she was best known for her explosive bat. Jamie could hit the ball out of any park, up to and including Yellowstone. Of the many drives she hit, 3 really stand out in my memory:
  1. The monster shot she hit against Spring Garden in the 2008 state tournament at Lagoon Park. Anything that travels that far and that high should have a stewardess on it.
  2. The powershot she hit against Maplesville in the sub-state at the Hub. Their entire team turned in perfect synchronization and watched it fly. When they turned around, they all had a different look on their faces. Game, set, match. Frankenstein was not only loose, he was headed for the village with a rusty Kaiser blade.
  3. Finally, a double she hit off the Great Wall of Guin two years ago. It was still climbing when it hit the Big Red Monster in right-center, about 40 feet up. I'm convinced if it had cleared the fence, it would have broken somebody's windshield up on the interstate at Yampertown. Wow!
Oh, before I forget, Jamie has more career RBIs than anybody in program history. Congratulations on a great career. You (and big sister Nikki) have been a big part of our success for a long time. We're going to miss you, young lady.

Tiffany Oden is not overly swift, not particularly strong, nor is she uncommonly athletic. These things only make the fact that she's one of the best players in our history all the more amazing. She's without doubt the best defensive outfielder I've ever seen. And as somebody once wrote about Shoeless Joe Jackson, her "glove was where triples went to die." Time after time she caught balls nobody could believe she got to, let alone caught. And when she moved in to play shortstop this season, she made the move with a smile and a great attitude. She became a really good infielder with good range and an excellent arm. Tiff was one of those special players who always put the team ahead of herself. She never hit for a spectacular average, never hit a ball over the fence, but she was a great clutch hitter. Tiff was at her best when things were tightest. Anybody remember who got the hit that beat eventual 2A state champion Oakman at Hub a couple of seasons ago? I do. Tiffany Oden. How about who lead off the 7th with a double in the NAC finals and scored the tournament winning run on Taylor's single this last April at Hackleburg? Right again, Tiffany Oden. She is a shining example of heart and want-to being more valuable than raw talent and ability. If any of you younger girls are worried about playing time, just follow in Tiff's footsteps. She's already proven that hard work, effort and a great attitude trumps whatever else people think is required to be a great player. Good luck and continued success, Tiff. You're going to be greatly missed.

Brooke Everette. Where do I begin? If I listed all her honors, this blog would be too long to read. Simply stated, she is the best player in Hub fast-pitch history. Period. We've had great pitchers before (Chasidy Tucker). We've had great hitters before (Jesi McMillan, Jamie Hancock, Maegan McCollum, Jennifer Oden). We've had great infielders before (Jesi Mac, Bug, Nicole). But we've never had them all rolled into one player until Brooke Everette. Four times first team All-State, received a scholarship to play at Bevill State Sumiton, led Hub to two consecutive state tournaments, three 30-win seasons, 4 consecutive ASWA Top 10 finishes and was three times named to the Tuscaloosa News Super 10 Team. She owns every career record at Hub except homeruns and RBIs. Whew! The last time a Lady Lion team took the field without Brooke in the starting lineup was May of 2003. Amazing, isn't it? You're the best, kid, and to say we're going to miss you is a big understatement. May success and happiness be your constant companions.

So where do we go from here? After losing 6 of the best players in team history (Jesi Mac, Bug, Nicole, Jamie, Tiffany and Brooke) in the past 2 years, it's all over, right? Horse Manure. We've lost great players to graduation. So what? It's happened before and it will happen again. Remember, tradition never graduates. That's not just a slogan at the Hub, it's a way of life. We will practice longer, harder and better than anybody we play. We will out-hustle them, we will play with more heart, we will be better prepared, better coached and have better fan support than anybody we play. We're the Hubbertville Lady Lions. We don't rebuild, we reload. 24 consecutive winning seasons don't lie. No Lady Lion in the history of either the slow-pitch or the fast-pitch programs has ever played on a losing team. That says a lot about the ladies who have played on those 24 teams and a whole lot about the man who has coached every one of them.

I want all the ladies returning to the 2010 team and all those who have ever played Hub softball to do something for me. Be proud. You're a part of a very exclusive club. Be proud that you are a part of something so consistently excellent. You wear an invisible badge of honor that separates you from ordinary high school athletes. When you tell people, "I played at Hubbertville for Coach Harris," you've told them everything they need to know about you. It says you're a can-do person, tough as $2.00 steak, and no stranger to hard work and maximum effort. It also says what you're not, that you're not a thumb-sucking, diaper-wearing Mama's baby who ran for the couch when things got tough. In this age of whiney babies, you can be proud you're not one of them. You earned your place in history.

One last observation about the 2010 team. We return 6 starters, including Molley, Leigh Ann, Taylor, Katie, Alley and Alisha. We also have some valuable reserves and some promising rookies coming along. It's a good blend of experience and youth. There's no doubt in my mind this will be a good team. The only question is how good. Hard work, dedication, and a winning attitude can take you from good to great. You control your own fate. But please don't think you're in this alone. There are 24 teams, 24 years of a tradition of excellence watching you. Don't let them, or yourselves, down.

The Old Gray Lion

This month's recommended reading: The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.
Common sense financial advice. Good stuff.

This month's recommended TV: No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain.
Mondays at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel. I don't agree with all that Bourdain says but he may be the most delightfully sarcastic human being on the face of the earth.

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