The Championship Quest ended on a hot, muggy night at the hands of a Bonita Valley team the girls had tangled with before. It was not pretty. In fact, it was ugly. Real ugly.
The softball as a metaphor for life analogy is perhaps even more valid after a loss than a win. While it's often said that losing builds character, I contend that losing actually reveals character. And this little team that could had plenty of character!
"While we all love to win, winning blinds us to our real selves. Winning only tells us that on that particular day we were better than whoever we played. And while we all work hard to win, winning is a tricky thing. It tends to hide any weaknesses we have since we overlook them and simply notice that “we won”. " ( Thanks to Cindy Bristow's Softball Excellence http://www.softballexcellence.com)
The girls had won two games by blowout, and the other two by thrilling tie-breakers. That confirmed the above opinion. Facing a so-so Alpine Valley, the team did not play at the level they were capable of, and some weaknesses were exposed.
Losing the final game against a good but less than classy Bonita Valley team that made no errors was at least understandable. Getting tagged with their first loss to a mediocre team that C-Mont played down to was particularly upsetting.
After the ITB win over Chino Hills Red, the girls were flying high. Perhaps too high. The heat was intense, the humidity wilting. The game started at 2:03 pm, and Taylor set the visitor AV down with no score in the first.
Katie K led off with a double to center, and things looked good at the start. But the wheels came off, and the girls never got on track in this game. Strike-outs, errors, a lack of clutch hitting and just plain old bad luck combined to hold the squad to just one run.
AV looked like they did not want to be there, but they took advantage of every opportunity handed them. Claremont managed just 4 hits, and despite 5 walks and being set down 1-2-3 in only one inning, they never got a break.
The final score of 7-1 was more lopsided than the game actually was, but the reality set in. To the loser's bracket it would be, and a rematch with a dirty Bonita Valley team.
Having played BV in States a few weeks before, the girls had an idea of what they were going to face. During that game, the lack of sportsmanship of the coaches became the story line. Katie K was intentionally hit by their best pitcher twice, with no apologies.
The C-Mont coaches had kept tabs on #3 during Nationals, and she was spot-on in every game. She did not hit one batter. BV had played and lost an incredible game the night before to the La Mirada Silver team - a Cinderella story in and of itself.
That game was one of the best games I have ever witnessed - pros, college, Olympics, Sunday Beer League, whatever! There were a handful of lead changes, and it was won in the bottom of the 7th on a walk-off hit, putting BV on a collision course with the C-Mont club.
It was truly a testament to the spirit and courage of the 10 and 11 year girls who played their guts out. Too bad their sportsmanship did not carry over to their coaches. It became apparent that this game would not be won or lost on the field, but in the dugout.
The game started out 0-0 in the first, 1-0 BV in the second. Then, in the top of the third, the fireworks were lit. Chandler led off with a sharp single to right center, Ambur coming in as a pinch runner. Katie K came to the plate, and, surprise, pitching change.
Katie K had already singled to left center in the first, so the BV coaches were worried. In comes #3, and guess what her instructions were. It was obvious she did not want to work the plan, as both she and her catcher had tears in their eyes prior to the first pitch.
Poor #3 threw two pitches, but did not accomplish her coach's goal. Then it happened - high and tight. And although the umpire did not call it so, Katie K was hit. The second base umpire called an illegal pitch, and demonstrated the crow hop he had observed. Ambur to second.
But that was not the story line. The Claremont parents erupted, the Claremont coaches in the dugout went off, this humble scorekeeper went nuts. But, amazingly, Coach Keven kept his cool.
The mother of #3, who happens to be a coach, was on the field accusing Claremont parents of saying negative things to her daughter, and then challenging the C-Mont parents to take it to the parking lot to settle things. Very classy!
For a coach of a 10 year girl to call for an intentional hit, not once or even twice, but three times against the same player, is really beyond the pale. For a coach to not call for retaliation is a demonstration of the kind of sportsmanship that most parents want to see.
After things settled down, which took about 15 minutes, the game resumed. Katie K is THE toughest little girl I know. She hit the next pitch straight back up the middle, and only a lucky, reflexive, defensive catch saved major damage to #3's face. Battle won, game still in question.
Claremont, it seemed, had some wind taken out of the sails. They were not used to this type of play. They gave up three runs in the bottom of the inning, and it appeared the intimidation tactics were having the intended effects.
Nevertheless, the girls continued to grind, refusing to give up and go away quietly. Katie K came back up in the 5th, and to BV's credit, was basically walked on five outside pitches.
Elyse got aboard on a fielder's choice, stole second, was advanced by Cady, and scored on a passed ball. Shut-out broken. Savannah got a hit to left center, and motored around the bases on Kalena's bloop single to right.
But it just wasn't in the cards. Savannah was thrown out at the plate for the third out of the inning. Quit is not in the C-Mont girls vocabulary however, and BV did not score despite sending five batters to the plate in the bottom of the 5th.
The girls ran out of gas, though, and went 1-2-3 in their last at-bat. After a couple of runs time was up and the game was called. Final score 6-1. The Championship Quest had ended. But what a run it was!
Manager Keven and Coaches Tony, Mike, and John all became emotional during the post-game talk, and rightly so. They were joined in the emotion by the parents and families, for they had all witnessed something nobody thought could happen. Nobody, that is, but the girls.
For THEY did it. They were the ones who practiced hard. They were the ones who played hard. They were the ones who sweated, who bled, who got hurt. They were the ones who played in the rain and the heat. Who fell down and got up. Who never quit.
They were the ones who displayed the class and sportsmanship, win or lose, that is now a foundation for the rest of their lives.
Keven's talk evoked the metaphor of life analogy. If the girls never picked up a bat or ball again, they had this memory. Of working together to accomplish something bigger than an individual goal. Of overcoming adversity, whether self-imposed, or forced upon them. Of overcoming physical challenges with mental toughness.
In their first year of "B" Division, the 2010 Claremont Ca 10U Gold All-Stars had placed 9th in The Western Regional Nationals. Nothing could ever take that away. They had built relationships and made memories that will last a lifetime. All of this while playing a game.
That is why this simple game is so beautiful. Because it brings out the best in a person, even when the worst happens. And this group of wonderful, beautiful, hard-as-nails, tough-as-iron young ladies brought out the best in each other.
They depended on each other. They picked each other up. They would not let each other quit, not once, not at all, not ever. They played the game of softball together. And after the games end, they played the game of life together.