By Adam Gore/Special to the Journal
JACKSON – It’s been said that students can learn perseverance through the adversity of athletics.
For the past seven months, adversity has been part of the Smithville Lady Seminoles’ everyday routine.
That’s why their two-game sweep with 5-4 and 8-6 wins over the Stringer Lady Devils in Saturday’s MHSAA Class 1A slow-pitch softball state championship came as little surprise to head coach Jeremy Duke.
“These girls have been through so much,” said an emotional Duke. “Words can’t truly express how proud I am of this team not only for winning this championship, but for what they have been able to do for the community… this is something special.”
Smithville (21-9) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in Game 1 only to see Stringer rally to take a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth inning. The Lady Noles rallied on two-run single by Ashtyn Hensley for the come-from-behind victory.
“The girls refused to lose,” Duke said about Game 1. “You could tell by the way they came to the dugout that they weren’t rattled and knew what they had to do to get the win.”
In Game 2, Smithville once again fought through the adversity of a late-game rally from Stringer to pull away for a two-run series-clinching victory on RBIs from ninth-grader Claire McNeese and junior Kyla Ford.
“Everyone did their part,” Duke told his champions after the game. “I’m proud of the way everyone stepped up and had each other’s backs all day long. It’s a great moment for our program, but more importantly it’s a great moment for a whole lot more people back home that are proud of what we were able to accomplished.”
For Meagan Whitehead, Linsey Lann, and Taylor Ann Boozer this was their second time to hoist a state championship trophy, but for the trio of seniors this championship will be extra-special.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said a teary-eyed Whitehead, who lost her home during the April tornados. “This is special. It means a lot to be able to bring this championship back home because it’s something we earned by pulling together and being there for each other through everything. We wanted to win this for everybody in Smithville.”
It’s the first slow-pitch state championship for the Smithville softball program since 2008, when the three seniors were freshmen.