WOODLAWN — Following their 4-3 loss to Junction City in the semifinals of the 2A state tournament, Woodlawn softball head coach Chad Hutson gave his players the option of either riding the bus home or riding with their parents.
Assuming, most would choose to ride with their parents; some of the players were already signed out. But once the team broke from their meeting, all of them decided it was best to ride on the team bus.
“It all started when conference season began,” soon-to-be junior Madisyn Stewart said. “Some of us had never rode the bus home before, and we figured we would give it a try.
“We liked it so much, we rode the bus every single time. That is where our team chemistry came from.
“Because we just had so much fun.”
Woodlawn finished the season 26-8 and were the 7-2A East conference champions and the district champions. Good enough to award Hutson as The Commercial’s Southeast Arkansas Softball Coach of the Year.
“Our team this year, they did this,” Hutson said. “It is all about them.
“They practiced well and they played well and they came to work every day.”
Hutson said the players had very few problems and hardly missed practice.
“And it showed,” Hutson said.
Woodlawn tallied 17 home runs in 2014 — a feat that hadn’t been accomplish in Hutson’s nine years with the Lady Bears.
“We had seven different kids hit home runs,” Hutson said. “… It is a reflection of the work we put in.”
Stewart batted .313 with 32 runs scored and 14 RBIs.
“(Hutson) tried to tell us we can be better,” Stewart said. “We had really good chemistry.”
Hutson felt the turning point of the season was the loss to 7A Bentonville in a tournament at Arkansas-Monticello.
“It showed us, that we could play with anybody,” Hutson said. “They were kind of the measuring stick for the rest of the season.
“For it to be a loss, it was probably our best game all year.”
Bentonville scored all three of its runs in the first inning.
“They told us after the game, that we were one of the more competitive teams that they’ve played,” Stewart said. “We played well, might not have won, but all around we played well.”
Bentonville’s pitcher Morgan Vaughan will play for Arkansas Tech in the spring.
“They were a good school,” Stewart said. “… It wasn’t our best game, but things really picked up after that game.”
Sophomore Lily Henderson threw 185 1/3 innings for Woodlawn and struck out 221 batters. She had an ERA of 1.25 and a record of 26-7.
“As a ninth grader (last season), she came in and did a really good job for us,” Hutson said. “… We weren’t really worried (about a possible letdown).
“She is coming into her own and she has the potential to be just crazy good. We are proud of our young kids.”
Woodlawn will lose three seniors for next year including senior Megan Howard who had a team-high .368 batting average with 27 RBIs and 25 runs scored. Seniors Laynie Nelson and Amber Scoles also graduated.
“We feel pretty good about next year,” Hutson said. “I think, if we just kind of use this season as a blueprint.
“We bring back a lot of kids and we feel really good about it.”
Hutson credited his team of assistant coaches for the team’s success.
“It was a total team effort,” Hutson said. “We had quality kids, good quality coaches and I think together, that’s a direct reflection of that (pointing to his team’s stats).”