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Laurence Manning Academy senior Baylee Elms was visibly overjoyed last week when her Lady Swampcats won the South Carolina Independent School Association 3-A State Championship title.
But winning it against the school’s main rival, the Wilson Hall Lady Barons, made it all the better. It was the team’s second State Championship title in two years.
“We wanted it,” she said. “Our school has never had a back-to-back win before, and that made us want it even more.”
Elms said she believes her team was “more mentally focused” this season.
“We were more mentally in the game,” she said. “We wanted it last year, but this year, we wanted it more.”
Senior Brooke Ward, the team’s shortstop, said being defending champions “felt pretty great.
“Last year, we weren’t expected to win it,” she said. “This year, we had more expectations. It felt good to beat Wilson Hall, since they’re our rivals.”
In 2016, the team beat a lesser rival, Thomas Sumter.
“They’re still kind of our rivals, but not as much as Wilson Hall,” she said. “I think it’s pretty awesome that both times we beat our rivals.”
Senior Taylor Lea said the team had already fallen to Wilson Hall once in the season.
“This year, I felt like we earned (the state title) more than we did last year,” she said. “Last year, they called a game because of rain, and we didn’t get to finish it. This year, it was more intense because they had beaten us.”
Centerfielder Cora Lee Downer, a senior, said May 17 was “a great time to be alive.”
“It was the best feeling, winning that final game,” she said. “I know that I will experience other things in life, but there was no better feeling.”
Elms said there was “no better way to go out of high school.”
“Especially together with these girls,” she said.
Downer said she felt like this year’s team was “more cohesive.”
“It’s not that we weren’t on the same page last year, but we were more like a family this year,” she said. “There was more of a bond. We already knew what it was like to win, and that bonded us together even more.”
Lea said the team “all knew what the goal was.”
“There was no doubt that we wanted it even more than we did last year,” she said.
Senior Ashton Rogers said she felt like the pressure in the final game was a little overwhelming.
“Obviously, it was exciting,” she said. “I was the one who crossed home plate to win the game.”
“I attacked her,” Elms interjected. “We were all screaming and jumping and running around.”
Rogers said the final game, the third in the best-of-three series, was “do or die” for the Lady Swampcats.
“We had to win it, or it was over,” she said.
Downer said that going into a third game wasn’t a new experience for the team.
“We’ve never played in a State Championship where we didn’t have a third game,” she said. “It wasn’t that unusual. We’ve always played that third game. But still, that third game is pretty essential.”
Ward said that, ultimately, the Lady Swampcats “took control of the moment.”
“We pulled it out,” she said. “We knew what we had to do, and we did it.”
Eight-grader Hannah Truett is the youngest player on the team.
“Whenever I first started the season, I wasn’t going to play,” she said. “Then, Coach (Maria) Rowland helped me through the ups and downs. My coach in the past had told me I wasn’t good enough. She boosted my confidence. Whenever I was practicing to go on the team, she was there for me. And so were the other players.”
Truett said she enjoyed winning the State Championship, but that she also appreciates the friendships she has made.
“Unreal is the word for the win,” she said. “I just hope that next year, we can keep going through a good season. We had a good season this year, obviously. So, hopefully, that sticks with us next year.”
Sophomore Trinity Harrington, a left-fielder, said the back-to-back win was “crazy.”
“We just talked to God and prayed about it,” she said. “We just had faith.”
Harrington said the girls did what Rowland always implores them to do.
“We don’t pray for the other team to lose,” she said. “We pray for the Lord to give us the strength to overcome the obstacles and to pull through for the win.”
Kayla Acord, Madison Truett and Breanna Hodge didn’t play this season, but they kept the team’s spirits up with songs and encouragement from the bench.
“I will always remember us in the dugout sinning whenever we were down by one point in the final game to keep us up and going,” said Hodge. “We were singing ‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus.”
Truett said that Rowland is “constantly wanting us to say something in the dugout to keep everyone up and going.”
“When they start making errors, you have to hype them back up,” she said.
Acord said it’s “almost hard to believe we won.”
“It just doesn’t seem real right now,” she said.
Pitcher Liz Hussey, a sophomore, agreed.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” she said. “But I didn’t want to go in the game expecting to win. I thought we were going to, but I didn’t expect it. I knew we still had to work for it.”
Like her teammates, Hussey said playing against the rival made the win “even better.
“We know them, and we’ve played them so many times,” she said. “They’re a tough team, and next year, they only lose one player. So, we have to work really hard next season, especially since we’re losing five seniors. Those are five important positions to fill.”
Eighth-grade student Cakhi Fowler is the team’s shortstop and also plays in the outfield.
“I was nervous when I first got pulled up to varsity, but I felt like I belonged and everyone helped me through it. It was an insane feeling to win,” she said. “It was amazing. It felt so right. I don’t know how to describe it. Running out there on the field at the end, it was so emotional. You’re just so happy.”
Fowler said the bus ride back to Manning after Game 3 was “really loud.”
“We were going really fast and hanging out windows and banging on the roof,” she said. “The escort was really fun when we pulled up to the school. Everyone was screaming and we were blasting music on the radio.”
Sophomore Maggie Josey, who plays first base, had also moved up to varsity from junior varsity in 2017.
“It’s just unreal,” she said of the win. “Now, I know what it’s like to be the best. And I hope that we can go again next year and threepeat.”
Pitcher Lundee Olsen agreed.
“We had a lot of adversity after losing the second game,” she said. “But that only made the final win sweeter.”
Olsen said she felt like the team had it after the win in Game 1 earlier in the week.
“But we just needed a reality check,” she said. “God wanted to show us that it was in His own time, and that Wilson Hall was still great competition. He wanted to make the win better for us in His time.”
Olsen said the 2018 season will be “a lot different from this year.”
“I’ve played with our five seniors since my eighth-grade year,” she said. “I’m hoping we will still have the talent and ability to have a great team. It will take more work, but we’ve got it.”
Elms said she feels like the team will have a good chance without them. Downer agreed.
“It’s going to be a very tough year,” she said. “Wilson Hall only loses one player. That will be their toughest competition.”
“It’s a big chunk of people leaving,” Elms added. “We’ve moved up through the years together, and when you start over with new people, it can be more difficult. They’re just going to have to get the new players to work with them as a unit.”