LA bags second title

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2005

NASHVILLE – As Yogi Berra would say, &uot;It’s D\u00E9j&192; vu all over again.&uot;

Winning a state championship is hard.

Repeating as state champions is nearly impossible.

Add in playing three times in one day to claim that second state title and few would have believed it was possible at all.

It was.

The Lady Warriors of Lawrence Academy claimed their second consecutive North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association state title here Saturday thanks to gutsy performances by a group of young ladies who played five games in two days.

After beating Cape Fear Christian Academy 1-0 in the first game Friday, Lawrence suffered a 13-2 defeat Friday evening, dropping the Warriors into the loser’s bracket. The team then rolled off three games Saturday to win the state title for the second year in a row.

&uot;It’s something I wanted in high school and never got,&uot; LA assistant coach Bill Swain said. &uot;Our backs were against the wall after Friday, but we came in focused, took it one game at a time and the pitcher and catcher did an excellent job and we hit well enough to win.&uot;

Seniors Catherine Outten and Taylor Mizelle provided the leadership for the team all season long and nothing changed Saturday when the Warriors were facing elimination with a single loss.

&uot;I think the world of those two girls,&uot; Warrior softball boss Truitt Johnston said. &uot;They have been a blessing to me. They were the female coach that I didn’t have this year.

&uot;It’s good that we were able to win it again and allow those two to go out on a high note,&uot; he added. &uot;It’s something they’ll never forget.&uot;

Both Mizelle and Outten said they were pleased to end their careers on such a day.

&uot;I think since I was a senior and this was my last game, Catherine and I couldn’t have asked for a better note to end it on,&uot; Mizelle said. &uot;We also couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to share it with.&uot;

Outten echoed those thoughts.

&uot;I am proud of this team,&uot; she said. &uot;I enjoyed playing with each and every one of them and I think every person on the team was a big part of this championship.&uot;

Both seniors said the second title was more difficult than the first one because of having to battle through the loser’s bracket to win and being the state’s top-ranked club.

&uot;This one was more difficult for us, definitely,&uot; Outten said. &uot;Everyone was gunning for us this year. Last year no one really thought we were going to win, but this year everybody in the state of North Carolina wanted to beat us.&uot;

After falling into the loser’s bracket, Outten and Mizelle held a players-only meeting to focus their team on the job at hand.

&uot;The night before we had our meeting and I told them that from now – 10:12 p.m. – until tomorrow, I want everyone thinking about softball only.

&uot;I never had a doubt in my mind we were going to win,&uot; she continued. &uot;I did what I told everyone to do. Every time I went to the plate I though I was going to hit the ball and every time Jessica threw a pitch, I hoped it was coming to me. That’s the way you have to play if you want to win, you have to want it.&uot;

With the finals moments away, Outten and Mizelle called the team together again for one more talk.

&uot;We just were saying that we had to want it more than they did,&uot; Mizelle said. &uot;It was down to a battle of who wants it most. We were all so tired, but we were determined.&uot;

The title may have been little more than a pipe dream if it hadn’t been for the right arms of Jessica Johnston and Lauren Rea as the two battled through three consecutive games to help lead their teams to victory.

Johnston threw 20 innings on Saturday after pitching 13 on Friday while Rea, a junior catcher, stayed behind the plate for the same number of frames.

Johnston threw nearly 250 pitches in one day and was so sore Sunday she couldn’t raise her arm above her head.

&uot;The team itself has practiced six days a week,&uot; Truitt Johnston said. &uot;Jessica has practiced seven days a week.

&uot;The Saturday’s we were off, she was in pitching lessons,&uot; he continued. &uot;That’s the reason she could do it. She threw 100 pitches every day in practice.&uot;

When Jessica Johnston came off the field in the middle of the seventh inning of the final game, she had tears in her eyes.

&uot;When I came off the field, I realized I wouldn’t be able to throw another inning if we didn’t score,&uot; Jessica said. &uot;It was worth it, though. If I’m sore for a week it wouldn’t bother me as long as we won.&uot;

Truitt Johnston said he started warming up two pitchers in the middle of the seventh in case the Warriors didn’t score.

&uot;She just gave it everything she had and I’m proud of what she was able to do, though I wasn’t even sure she could,&uot; Truitt Johnston said.

Rea wore catcher’s gear for the same 20 innings behind the plate and was also exhausted by the end of the game.

&uot;She is beat to a frazzle,&uot; the coach said. &uot;If Jessica throws 250 pitches, Lauren has to throw 250 back. I have to commend her for it.

&uot;Every Saturday that Jessica was in pitching lessons, Lauren was right there catching her up,&uot; he added. &uot;There’s a lot of devotion from those two.&uot;

Jessica Johnston said she was proud of her catcher.

&uot;I talked to her this morning (Sunday) and the back of her legs were raw,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;It took a lot to catch that many innings and she helped me a lot because she blocked a lot of bad pitches late in the game when I was tired.&uot;

Another key to the Lady Warriors victory was the presence of assistant coach Edwin Rea. Rea has been battling illness for much of the season and left the hospital Friday to join the team in Nashville.

&uot;That was a big boost for the girls,&uot; Truitt Johnston said. &uot;It was especially a big boost for Lauren (Rea’s daughter). It was a super boost for me because I think the world of him.

&uot;I think he helped our cause by being there,&uot; he added. &uot;It was very special for us to have him there.&uot;

Though Saturday was a difficult day, most of the Warriors thought they would be able to pull off the three victories if they stayed focused and played together.

&uot;My mindset was basically on the first game when we started Saturday,&uot; Truitt Johnston said. &uot;We needed to get up on them early and try to get out in five and we almost did it.

&uot;I believed we could do it, because that’s what we practiced for all season long,&uot; he added. &uot;We were conditioned and it paid off.&uot;

Swain said he felt Friday was a good experience in a way.

&uot;I think we all knew we got a wakeup call Friday,&uot; he said. &uot;Going into Saturday, I liked the way things looked. The girls were focused and I thought we were ready to play.&uot;

The players were equally convinced a state title was possible.

&uot;I thought we could win,&uot; Jessica Johnston said. &uot;I knew if we did, I was going to have to pitch three games and I didn’t know if I could do it. After we won the first, I knew I was going to pitch three in a row and that made me nervous.&uot;

Mizelle said it was tough, but she had faith in her team.

&uot;I thought we could pull through, but I knew it was going to be harder than we were used to,&uot; she said. &uot;We knew it would be tough, but we believed we could do it.&uot;

While more than half the team won the state title for the second year, it was also the second state tournament for the ‘lucky lizard.’ The plastic lizard was found at last year’s state tournament and has been held onto as a good luck charm by Cathy Mizelle.

&uot;That lizard has been passed down and it will be back next year if I have to buy it from somebody,&uot; Truitt Johnston said.

The Warriors had three All-State players named at the end of the tournament. They were Outten, Johnston and junior Jodi White.