SHERIDAN — Last Saturday, the Sheridan softball team finally conquered the semifinal round of the 6A state playoffs.
After losing in the semis three of the previous four seasons, the Lady Yellowjackets’ 7-2 win over Marion ensured Sheridan would play in the state championship game for the first time since 1999.
“It just felt like a relief,” senior Hunter Clark said Wednesday. “We’ve been working hard for four years.
“It’s great to see it’s finally paying off.”
The moment meant a lot to Clark and her four fellow seniors who have seen incredible success over their four years, highlighted by a 104-12 overall mark, but had yet to play for a state title.
“We’ve all basically grown up playing together,” senior Sydney Bonner said. “Almost everyone has played on varsity all four years.
“This has been a big year for us. We got our 100th win this season and won our second conference championship this year.”
Now, the Lady ’Jackets (28-1) will get a chance to capture the program’s first state title since winning the one-class fastpitch title 15 years ago. Sheridan will face 7A/6A-South Conference-rival Benton (20-5) in the 6A state final at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Arkansas’ Bogle Park in Fayetteville.
Clark said it wasn’t long after last year’s semifinal loss to Russellville that she thought this year’s team could get over the hump.
“It was about two weeks into the offseason,” she said of when she knew. “When we found out we could tell each other anything and that we would be there for each other, we knew we had something special.
“It was just completely different than before.”
Head coach Eddie Woodall said he wasn’t surprised with the success his team has had this season, because the seniors had been so close before.
“They’ve been successful throughout their career,” he said. “… They are all just so smart.
“They know what to do out there, and then they can actually do it, too.”
Sheridan, which has rolled off 28 straight wins after a season-opening loss to White Hall, hasn’t played in many close games this season. Woodall said that doesn’t worry him, though, because most of these players have started since their freshman year.
“They haven’t been in many (close games) this year,” he said. “But they have played in a lot of close games in the past.
“They have experience in those situations, they know how to deal with adversity.”
The team dealt with arguably its first adversity of the state tournament in the first inning of the semifinal game. Marion took a 1-0 lead as Sheridan trailed for the first time in the tourney.
Perhaps ironically or perhaps fittingly, it was freshman Charlie Names who came up with quite possibly the two biggest hits Sheridan softball has had this century.
Names’ three-run homers in the first and third innings against the Lady Patriots proved to be the game-winner and exclamation point.
“It felt good that I could do my best to help them get to the championship game,” she said. “… Next year, I’m going to miss (the seniors), so I’m glad we’ve done great this year.
“It feels good to help them get to the finals.”
Names’ blasts made sure the dream season continued for the Lady ’Jacket seniors.
The only thing that didn’t seem to fall into place this season for the seniors is a conflict between the state championship game and the high school’s graduation at 7:30 p.m. Friday, but that doesn’t mean the five 12th-graders won’t have a graduation ceremony that day.
Clark said her and the other four seniors — Bonner, Madison Crosby, Lauren Mitchell and Morgan White — would have a special graduation ceremony on the field at Bogle Park before they face Benton.
“Our A.D. (Matt) Scarbrough will be wearing all his graduation stuff,” Clark said. “We’re going to wear our cap and gown, too. We’ll walk across home plate and receive our diplomas.
“They’re going to video tape us, and then at graduation, they’ll play it when they call our names.”
Clark said Friday would definitely be a special day, especially if the Lady ’Jackets win.
“It would be pretty cool,” she said, “to graduate and win state on the same day.
“Not many people can say they did that.”