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Great season ends on sour note

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For the second consecutive year, the Halifax County High School varsity softball team is coming to terms with a disappointing end to the season, this one a 4-3 loss to Osbourn High School in the second round of the Northwest Region Tournament.

Halifax County led 3-0 in the early going and was one out away from earning a berth in the state tournament before an Osbourn rally ended the Comets’ dreams of clinching a state tourney berth.

“Heartbreaking” was the only word Head Coach Melanie Saunders could think of when describing the end of the season.

“We knew coming in this team was not as strong as last year, everybody knew it, and everybody had the expectation that last year’s team would go to states,” Saunders said.

“Essentially, we told them, “You are not good enough right now to win the district.

“We told them that at the beginning, but we also told them, “You can be good enough to go to regionals and the state.”

With first-year varsity players at a number of key positions, much of the early season was spent building confidence and trust, according to Saunders.

“We had to make them understand that if we had the confidence they could play at this level, they could have it within themselves,” she said.

“Numerous times we talked to them and told them they had to believe in themselves.”

The coaching staff challenged the team after an 11-1 loss to Jefferson Forest High School at the Battle of the Bases Tournament early in the season.

“If this was all you’re going to put into this program, essentially we may finish third in the district, and you have to make a decision,” Saunders recalled telling the team.

“At that tournament I think we realized we had a lot of work to do.

“That’s what we had to develop this year, instinct, and trust.”

Watching the Comets (20-3) progress from that point to winning the regular season and tournament titles in the final year of the Western Valley District made it that much harder to accept the way the season ended, Saunders pointed out.

“I do realize from day one to now it’s a much-improved team, and entirely different team, but it’s still heartbreaking,” said Saunders.

“This year, I don’t think there was anything we could have done different.”

There are some things Saunders and her coaching are planning to do differently next season.

“I think we may need to focus on more conditioning toward the end of the season, and I think we need to work more on our short game,” explained Saunders.

“A lot of our games, particularly at the regional level, are one-run games, and Osbourn put down every bunt they attempted.

“When you have a runner at second as opposed to first your scoring possibilities are much greater.”

“A lot of our kids don’t have that mentality, but it’s not about the ‘out’ but advancing the base runner,” added Saunders.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll spend a lot more time on that, because the last several games we had situations where we needed to put bunts down but couldn’t advance base runners.”

The game of softball is not so much physical but mental when two evenly matched teams meet, and that’s something else Comets coaches have been stressing now more than ever.

“It’s not the physical part that wins games but the mental part,” remarked Saunders, who also try and take a page out of Osbourn’s playbook next season.

“Osbourn is a quality team, a fast team one through nine,” observed Saunders.

“When they get on base, they’re stealing.  We had some speed on our team but not a lot.  We’re going to try to get a little more agility and quickness on the bases.

“That makes a world of difference.”

With the departure of five seniors, its up to the returning players to step up and find leadership roles within the team, Saunders noted.

“Somebody has to step up,” she said.

“Meg (Bane) and Miyana (Ross) in the infield and Tayler (Mosley) in the outfield did that this year.

“I’m hoping our underclassmen have watched and learned.”

Despite the disappointment with how the season ended, Saunders was happy about the progress her team made from beginning to end.

“We always tell our kids to finish strong, and they did.

“We hit well, played defense well, and Taylor pitched well.

“To get to that point and learn from it, that’s what we have to do.” 

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