For the last four years, I have coached our daughter's softball team. Well, it actually started two years before that in tee ball, but that wasn't "softball". Two years ago, I was a coach for the 7-8 year old team that played in a local district tournament. That taught me a lot about coaching and how to play to win games. Last year, I was a coach for the 9-10 team and I learned even more, though we had a young team and didn't win a game.
This year was different. Half the team was girls that had played on last year's 9-10 team and most of the others played on last year's 7-8 team that finished second in their tournament. We had experience, and it showed. Our first game in the District tournament was against an opponent (West Portage) who traditionally fields tough teams and the game went back and forth until we finally took the lead in the top of the 6th. We brought in our best pitcher to close the game, and that she did. I even got a little choked up after the game when I told the girls how proud I was of them (and they reminded me of that after every game we played). Our second game was against a league (Parchment) that our league had traditionally had trouble beating but we were able to win 7-0. Our third game was against a team (Gull Lake) that had beaten their other opponents pretty handily and, because they had been winning as well, were able to use their best pitchers. We beat them too!
That brought us to the championship game against West Portage. They had gotten back to us by winning 4 games in 5 days - in 90+ degree heat. It was #1 pitcher against #1 pitcher, but we had the advantage of being rested. It was close for a while but our girls poured it on as the other team tired and we won 13-2 in 5. It took a minute to realize that we were District 2 Champions! After running around the field with the banner and taking lots of pictures, we got our shirts and our pins and lots of information about playing in the state tournament in Escanaba. Yes, Escanaba - 8 hours away. Some of the families had to make big sacrifices to make it happen, but all 12 girls were able to go for at least part of the tournament. Amazing! We had a couple more practices for fine tuning and focus, and then we were off to the Upper Peninsula. And the adventure part of the story began.
We ended up being in the UP from Thursday through Tuesday morning. We were scheduled for pool play from Friday through Sunday, followed by a single elimination tournament for the top 8 teams. Thursday night there were tornado warnings so our initial coaches meeting was cut short and there were no games Friday because it rained CONSTANTLY. Like nearly biblical amounts of rain. Every building we went into had buckets somewhere to catch leaks. We played Friday's schedule on Saturday and beat Tecumseh 4-2, which was really exciting. They were a tough team and looked as though they had played together for a while. We got approval to play doubleheaders on Sunday (Saturday and Sunday's scheduled games) so we could get back on schedule but it rained all day Sunday too! Then, so that we could get everyone at least 2 games and make it a legitimate tournament without keeping everyone there for 10 days, the coaches agreed to change to a 16-team single elimination bracket seeded by the results of Saturday's games.
We played a team (Clare) who didn't have their #1 pitcher on Saturday because she was sick so they were seeded lower than they probably should have been. We got down by 5 in the first and took a while for our bats to wake up. We almost came back in the 6th but lost 7-5. It was a good game where each team got nice hits and made good defensive plays. We had stayed at the same hotel as Clare and some of the girls had gotten to know each other a little bit so that made it fun. Plus, they were just nice people.
We had a lot of "down time" because of the rain but got to do some fun things together and a little bit of sightseeing up there. We all went bowling Friday night and almost everyone went out to Rapid River Falls (it was really more of a "rapids" than a "falls") on Monday morning. We practiced in a nice park in the drizzle, had a couple of "team dinners", including a final one in the park where we had practiced, and spent a lot of time in the hotel pool. We said goodbye to one team member who had to go home early and made arrangements so two others could stay when their families needed to go home. We took care of each other.
I'm proud that we are (I think) the first Westwood 9-10 softball team to win the District. I'm also proud that we were the only Westwood team to win the District this year. These girls represented Westwood so well! If we had played the original schedule, we'd have gotten at least 3 games (and probably 4, based on our pool). But we were 4-0 in the district and 1-1 in the state and can always say we're District Champions - we have the banner to prove it. :) And it was a fun ride overall. I hope this wasn't a "once in a lifetime experience", but if it was, it was worth every minute.