Team effort equals state title

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A few weeks ago I took this space to tell you why Jessica Johnston of Lawrence Academy was the best player in the 1-A ranks of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association.

Saturday, that junior pitcher proved me right.

In two days, Johnston pitched 33 innings to lead her team to an NCISAA state title. She was so tired after throwing 20 innings on Saturday that she could barely move as she stepped to the plate and moved the game-winning run into scoring position.

Her performance was tough and gutsy – maybe the most gutsy performance I’ve ever witnessed by an athlete.

I say maybe because equal to that performance was the 34 innings in two days that Lauren Rea spent behind the plate. She caught the 20 innings Johnston pitched on Saturday in heat that was upwards of 80 degrees.

And how did they do at the plate during the third game of that grueling day? Johnston was 3-for-4 and Rea was 2-for-3. That’s just incredible.

While those two gave the performances of their career, there wasn’t a single Lawrence player who didn’t contribute.

Seniors Catherine Outten and Taylor Mizelle provided the leadership any coach craves from his upperclassmen. In addition to calling a players-only meeting after Friday’s loss, the two called the club together before the final game and gave them an inspirational talk.

There’s a reason I’m a huge fan of both of those young ladies and they showed it Friday and Saturday.

Morgan Phelps probably had the game of her career Saturday morning when she went 3-for-4 at the plate and helped propel the Warriors into the state finals. She was as good as I’ve ever seen her and was a key part of that state title.

Jodi White suffered through a slump in the state tournament, but battled like a pro. She kept her head up, did what she needed to do offensively and defensively and sparked Lawrence with several excellent defensive plays.

Ruth Stotesbury is a steadying force on any team she plays on. She is always there, always doing what’s best for the team and always being supportive of her teammates. I love her attitude and I’m thankful she was part of Lawrence’s second state championship.

Ashley Swain walked into a difficult situation, having moved up from the junior varsity level and starting on the hot corner for the defending state champions. She did it admirably and was able to make key defensive plays and deliver some solid hitting and bunting to help the Warriors secure their title.

Leigh Anne Eubanks came in an emergency situation. An eighth-grader pulled up to enjoy the state tournament; she spent Saturday anchoring shortstop because of a late-night personnel issue with the Warriors. She did it well and will be a big part of next year’s team.

Megan Street has been solid all season and provided excellent defense for the Lady Warriors on Friday and some key base-running on Saturday. Those weren’t her best contributions, however, as the junior was probably the loudest voice on the team in shouting encouragement for Johnston during those final few innings. Her second state title ring is well-earned.

Katelyn Sexton provided help for Lawrence in several areas. She played leftfield and pitched the only inning of the weekend that didn’t find Johnston on the mound, a seventh-inning performance against Faith on Friday evening. She is always a key part of any team she’s on.

Debbie Stotesbury was brought up to enjoy the state tournament as well, but ended up being Rea’s designated courtesy runner throughout the weekend. She did an excellent job for the Warriors and should celebrate the title as much as anyone.

Finally, the coaching staff was superb.

Truitt Johnston had the hardest job in all of high school sports – being a first-year coach that followed a popular, state championship coach. He did his job admirably and should be commended for making the right decisions even when they weren’t popular.

Bill Swain was right there in every decision Johnston made and was a key voice in directing defense and being there when the girls had questions. He earned the state title that eluded him in high school and got to enjoy it with his daughter – what more could you ask for?

For Edwin Rea to have even been in Nashville was something of a miracle. During the past few months, his illness has forced him to miss several games and he was in the hospital as late as Friday.

His presence, however, was just as important in the state championship as any other factor. He is a man of integrity who loves his family and his team and he showed how much by sitting with them through three games Saturday despite excruciating pain.

Lawrence earned a state title Saturday and they deserved it.