When it comes to losing in sports, character is defined not just by how you handle the loss, but how you bounce back from it.
With that said, how did the Optimist Club 12U All-Stars bounce back from their disappointing 15-3 showing against Pitt County in their first game of the Eastern North Carolina state softball tournament? Answer: By attacking their next two games on the second day of the tournament with a vengeance, defeating the Winter Park and Currituck All-Stars by a combined score of 33-4.
After the strong finish to their division play, the 12U All-Stars earned the number two seed in the double-elimination tournament bracket, with play resuming Friday morning at 11:00 against Kinston/Lenior.
“I wasn’t as disappointed with our opening loss to Pitt County as some of the girls were,” said 12U All-Stars coach Randy McCall. Against the heavily favored Pitt County All-Stars (who won the ENC tournament last year), the Optimist All-Stars were down by just two runs entering the fourth inning before Pitt County overpowered them.
“With that said, this team is resilient, and they are a strong enough group to leave a bad loss in the past where it belongs and respond accordingly,” he said.
By the time their 11:00 a.m. game was called against Winter Park in the fourth inning, the final score was eerily similar to the Optimist All-Stars’ first game: 15-3. Only this time it was the Optimist All-Stars who made the statement, putting up runs in bunches during the early innings to effectively close the door on Winter Park.
Right from the start, it appeared that the Optimist All-Stars wanted to erase the memory of their loss to Pitt County, as Lexi Jackson hit a 2-RBI double to left-field to spark a seven run first inning. Also in the bottom of the first inning, Kaylee McMillian notched a triple with the bases loaded to score Macie Gibson, Katie Lighthall and Jordan Danford.
The Optimist All-Stars would only pile on from there, scoring their final eight runs in the second inning. A double from the bat of Sarah McCall would score Lindsay Hunter and Hannah Byrd, and hits from Gibson and Lighthall would also drive in runs as well. But of particular note in the second inning was the 12U All-Stars’ aggressive base-running: four of their eight runs in the inning were the result of taking advantage of throwing and fielding errors, including runs scored by Lighthall and McMillian.
It was a performance that was dominating in all facets of play. But the 12U All-Stars were only just getting started after rediscovering their team chemistry, kicking off their second game of the day shortly before 3:00 p.m. by facing the Currituck All-Stars. And mirroring their emphatic morning win, the Optimist Club put the game well out of reach before Currituck knew what hit them.
The first inning started quietly enough, with the Optimist Club taking a 1-0 lead after a Hunter RBI single, but it was a six-run second inning that helped the 12U squad cut a pace that Currituck couldn’t match. Gibson would spark the offensive flurry with an RBI triple to score Grace McMillian, and was followed by Lighthall and Danford who hit consecutive doubles to make it back-to-back-to-back RBI hits. Byrd would later hit a 2-RBI triple of her own.
Gibson (who also had two stolen bases in the game) would score a run on an errant throw in a three-run third inning that also saw Hunter triple to knock in Danford and Kaylee McMillian. This would set up a dizzying six-hit, eight-run fourth inning that capped off a day where nearly every hitter in the Optimist lineup batted for a .600 average or better. Also smothering was the performance on the mound from the duo of Lighthall and Kaylee McMillian, who combined to allow just three hits on one earned run along with five strikeouts.
So potent was the Optimist offense that after their second game coach McCall insisted on each member of his team taking 50 bunt repetitions Thursday night to prepare for the weekend, when run-production may not come as easy.
Because when their inevitable rematch with Pitt County appears on the horizon, McCall wants his team prepared on all fronts.
“We have to have excellent pitching, fundamentally sound defense, and execute with runners in scoring position to give us a real shot at winning this tournament,” McCall said. “The good thing is, this team can do all those things and do them well. We showed that out here today.”