It’s early Saturday afternoon, two days before traveling to Marion for a season-opening matchup against a cadre of talent at Crittenden County High School.
In theory, she’s walking newly-minted junior ace pitcher Hannah Scott through the motions, talking with do-it-all seniors Emma Massey, Keiler Belt and Sarah Reed about leadership and expectations, and she’s embracing the youth of a strong sophomore class and enough middle schoolers to finally field a junior varsity squad without the assistance of varsity athletes.
But in reality, she’s downloading Disney+, preparing to watch episodes of Star Wars: “The Mandalorian” — and wondering what comes next.
It’s not ideal for Paducah Tilghman softball coach Sarah Puckett Trover, or her band of not-so-merry Lady Blue Tornado stars, who were anxiously awaiting to see how they finished in the race for the 2020 First Region crown before the halt of the season came down from KHSAA authorities due to coronavirus concerns.
What could have been? What would have been? What will be? All pertinent questions. All without concrete answers.
“We’re trying to hold out hope that there is going to be some kind of a season,” Trover said. “But then, (we’re) also understanding that it may not happen, and what that means for our seniors, but also as a team.
“And so I’ve been thinking ahead of time, thinking ‘Well, if they do cancel our season, what are some things we can do once we get released from lockdown as a team, just to celebrate the year?’ Even if it’s getting together and doing some fun stuff, because that’s what some of the girls have wanted.”
Headed to the University of Louisville in the fall for a degree in nursing, Massey is one of many seniors across the country — both at the high school and the college level — that would’ve preferred to have a career come to an end on their own terms.
She wanted to build on a strong junior season, in which she batted leadoff and hit .359 with a .437 on-base percentage. She wanted to work through the growing pains that would come in the circle, as Scott and two seventh graders — Ansley Barks and Mia Bobbitt — pushed to provide strong pitching after the graduation of incumbent star Chesleigh Pugh.
And, as she put it, she wanted the chance to show she could be “the best catcher in the state, or at least in this region.”
Instead, she’s left in a limbo, a waiting game. One that’s necessary for the safety of others, but agonizing because of the loss of control.
And she’s not ready to say goodbye to the game.
“I know it’s safer this way because of everything going on, but just the fact that it happened our senior year, it hurts,” she said.
Then, her voice cracked.
“Where I’m at now, I just want one. That’s all I want now. I just want one game. That’s all I really want. I just want one.”
Homecoming delayedMonday was also supposed to be a terrific kickoff for Belt’s senior season, because Marion is familial territory. She hit .294 last season, led the Lady Blue Tornado with 23 RBIs in 31 games and had nine of the team’s 61 doubles, and in the opening game of the season, she would’ve had more cheerleaders than normal.
“I have a ton of family in Crittenden County,” she said. “It was going to be a great way to start the senior season with my entire family in the crowd, and I grew up with some of those girls on the (Crittenden) team.”
Rather than compete on the diamond with the Lady Rockets, Belt joked and said she’ll fire up some iMessage games with her family and old friends, perhaps in a classic bout of “Connect Four,” “Word Hunt” or “Tanks.”
As for passing the time? She’s staying sharp in her garage, taking batting practice three times a week. She’s keeping the chatter going in a text thread with coaches and teammates, staying positive as best as possible.
But mostly, she’s daydreaming about 2020, and what it may have meant for the program itself.
“I think everyone was kind of expecting this to be a rebuilding year, and that (we’d) not really show out or anything,” she said. “But we were going to be a lot better than everyone expected. We were a lot better than even I had originally anticipated, because we had quite a few middle schoolers that were well skilled. And ... I don’t really know ... we were going to be a lot better than everyone expected because of our working together as a team. This team this year is really close. There’s no drama or anything.”
Learning to finish
After posting a 14-19 record and making it to the 2019 First Region semifinals, Trover was hoping this year would be about “finishing.” At the plate. In the field. Putting together a full seven innings. All of it.
Last season, the Lady Blue Tornado lost six games by two or fewer runs, while early leads against McCracken County (in the Second District championship) and Marshall County (in the First Region semis) fell to the wayside.
This year, things felt like they’d be different.
“We were talking about how we can go a good five innings, but it’s that sixth and seventh inning that usually just kills us,” she said. “We were really working on our stamina, and being able to go, and being mentally and physically able to finish those seven innings.
“Everyone at practice was really supporting each other, and pushing each other to be better. And that’s something that you don’t always get.”
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