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      Under clear blue evening skies that turned into a still and cloudless
night, the young Mauldin Varsity Softball team's exciting season came to an
abrupt and bittersweet end Monday night at Clayton Field at the hands of
arch-rival Hillcrest 1-3.  It was an elimination game in the Upper State
playoff bracket of the 4A State Championship tournament.  The top 8 teams
in the state were in action on this night and for two of those Elite teams,
their seasons would be over.  The Hillcrest Lady Rams (20-9, District 3
Champions) entered this game after having been drubbed by JL Mann (District
4 champs) in the opening round, 10-0.  Mauldin (26-3, Region and District 2
Champions) limped home from Boiling Springs after suffering a
mistake-filled and offensively meager loss at the hands of the Lady
Bulldogs (District 1 Champs), 2-3.
      Such was not the case against Hillcrest on this night.  The Lady Mavs
played valiantly against the surprisingly hot and motivated Rams.  Through
the first two scoreless innings, Mauldin managed two hits - singles by
Freshman outfielders Emma Swearingen and Deanna Sullivan. Freshman Ace
Amanda Storch and batterymate Kaitlyn Wagers gave up a lone hit to leadoff
speedster Sylver Samuel and a pair of walks in the first two frames, but
excellent infield play by the Lady Mavs and a strikeout by Storch, thwarted
any rallies Hillcrest might have envisioned in the early stages of the
game.  In the top of the third, Emma Swearingen swatted another single,
this time into right-center, off of Hillcrest Ace Courtney Roberts but
Mauldin managed no further offensive threats in the third, fourth, or fifth
innings...striking out 3 times and grounding out 4 times in the stretch.
Roberts was gaining confidence and strength on the mound - something she
lost in the middle part of her previous game against JL Mann...but not
tonight !
      In the bottom of the third, Samuel led off with another slap/bunt hit
then stole second to get into scoring position.  Brooke Camerato singled
into short center to put runners on the corners.  A wild pitch allowed
Camerato to reach second, and then Roberts delivered the big blow with a
double to left that scored her two teammates.  Flyouts to leftfield and
first base, then an unassisted groundout to Madison Tracey at first base
left Robert's courtesy runner on second base and ended the Ram rally, but
after 3 complete, Hillcrest had taken the lead 2-0.  Hillcrest threatened
again in their halves of the 4th, 5th, and 6th - generating 5 baserunners
from two hits, two walks and one error...but no more runs as the Mauldin
defense played tough and heady, particularly in the infield where Brianna
Davis, Dana Landers, Bria Barnhill, and Madison Tracey patrolled and
recorded 7 of 9 outs over the span.
      Still behind 0-2,  down to their last 6 outs, but back at their most
productive part of the batting order all season, Mauldin battled for their
coach, teammates, and their season.  With one out, Emma Swearingen singled
for the third time on this night.  Senior captain Dana Landers drove
another single up the middle to put runners on first and second.  With the
hit and run called by coach Joseph Terry, Deanna Sullivan grounded hard
between the shortstop and pitcher.  Hillcrest shortstop, Olivia Trone, made
an excellent diving stop of the ball, keeping it in the infield to prevent
a run from scoring. Her only play from the prone position was to second
base, but Landers, in motion on the pitch, was too quick and beat the flip
to the second sack.  With bases loaded,  8th grader Kaitlyn Wagers grounded
to second base for the second out, but driving in Swearingen with Mauldin's
first run.  A groundout to third ended the rally before it reached full
maturity, but the deficit was reduced to a single run and the Mauldin
portion of the overflowing capacity crowd had reason to cheer and keep hope
      Courtney Roberts, who was having one of her best pitching
performances of the season (0 walks, 6 hits, 3 Ks), led off for the Lady
Rams and unfortunately made this night one of her best offensive
performances also...she blasted the first pitch over the left-centerfield
fence and trotted around the bases with Hillcrest's third run. A walk, a
flyout to Swearingen in left, and a pair of hits loaded the bases following
Robert's score, but Storch and Mauldin refused to give up or yield anymore
to the visiting Hillcrest team that was playing excellent softball (0
errors, 9 hits) on the night.  A strikeout and another fly to Swearingen
brought the Lady Mavs back to the plate with one last chance.
      But it was not to be.  Three infield outs and Hillcrest earned their
advancement to the second elimination game of the Upper State bracket.
They will face Boiling Springs - losers to JL Mann 5-0  simultaneous to
this game on Mauldin's campus.  There was tremendous emotion on both sides
of the field after a prayer at the pitchers mound for members of both teams
who chose to participate.  Elation on the first base side as the black and
red clad victors bounced and slapped hands and body parts in several ways
emulated from the worlds of professional sports and entertainment.  On the
third base side, the young overachievers in brown and white were more
melancholy and subdued...contemplative and slower tonight in putting away
the flags, bases, and equipment.  Tears were shed as the Senior Captains
reflected on the end of their high School softball careers while
encouraging and consoling younger players. The younger of the "sisters in
cleats" embraced and exchanged thanks, remembrances, and compliments to
their graduating and remaining teammates. More tears were shed when the
coaches, parents and fans got into the final act.  All tried to look dry
and brave for a few inconsiderate yet sentimental cameras intent upon
capturing the moments for posterity.
      There is a beautiful message in the tears shed this evening.  These
special tears carried and conveyed a host of messages either spoken,
half-spoken, or unspoken -  "I hate to lose" ... "Im sorry this season is
over because its been great".... "Ive enjoyed working and playing with you
for 3 months" ,  " I cant wait to go to the bathroom, take a shower, and
get out of this dirty uniform"...  "thanks for believing in, helping, and
encouraging me",... "Im going to miss the closeness and camaraderie we have
had as a team" , "Now we can finally go shoe shopping and get a pedicure
Friday afternoons when classes get out" ... "thank you for having my back
and being there with me through the ups and downs of a long season",..."Did
you see that really cute guy who is talking to Jessica's dad ?"...and "I
appreciate the effort and the gifts you brought to this team - it was more
fun and successful because you were on it".  Such is the wonder of women -
young and experienced alike...attachment, devotion, distraction, emotion,
sisterhood.  The 2011 Lady Maverick Softball team was and played like a
team in most every sense of the word.  Not expected to be much more than
middle-of-the-pack,  Coach Terry and his team, with 6 first-time starters,
played the game with class,  tremendous heart, and effort.  With huge shoes
and positions to fill behind the 2010 State champion team,  this young
bunch did two things last year's team failed to do - Win the Snowball
Classic Tournament at Heritage Park in February and reel off 22 straight
wins without a single defeat (27 if the pre-season is included).  They also
kept two impressive streaks and legacies alive for the 2012 Lady Mavs to
defend - they won the toughest region in the State (note that all 4 Upper
state playoff teams were from Region 2 and the eventual State Champs will
again most likely be from Region 2) for the 4th year in a row and won
District 2 for the 4th year in a row.
      This loveable Mav team outscored their opponents 213-56, averaging
7.1 runs per game to their victims' 1.9.  They had a team batting average
of .360 to their opponents' .195, and an on-base percentage of .458 to
their foes' .288.  These Young Lady Mavs stole 46 bases (85%), while only
giving up 13 (62%).  The Mauldin Softballers of 2011 hit twice as many
homeruns (12), 5 times the number of triples (10), and 2 1/2 times the
number of doubles (57) as they allowed. Mauldin walked 22 more times,
struck out 95 less times, and made 48 fewer errors than their aggregate
opponents.  These are team stats that reflect on the excellent job done by
the pitchers & catchers as well as the hitters, the baserunners, and the
defense over 30 games.  That is outstanding play and production any way,
any one wants to slice it !  Those comparisons include but do not reflect
(if examined separately) what occurred in the 7 playoff games these gritty
ladies represented their school in,... but make no mistake,  The 2011 Lady
Maverick softball team represented their School and Region proudly and
extremely well.  Maybe they wouldnt have or shouldnt have lost to Boiling
Springs if they had played their best,... but they were ultimately
eliminated by a team (Hillcrest) playing better at this point in the season
and who certainly earned the game,... and if we are honest, there is
another team in the winners bracket (JL Mann)  playing their best at this
time of the season that this edition of the Mauldin Mavericks would have
been hard pressed to beat twice more on the same May night.  That Patriot
team will end up the 4A state champions of 2011...and there is only one
team who beat them twice in this season and who was not beaten by them -
Mauldin !  Ladies, you have had a great season and you are a truly
wonderful team of young ladies and talented players.  All of the best is
wished and prayed for you...and the best, both in Softball and in life,
lies ahead of you if you remain dilligent and focused on your goals, while
faithful to yourselves, to those who love you, and to what you believe in.
Go MAVS !!!