Every Bear making the headlines as of late
NEW MANCHESTER — Every state-bound high school softball squad has that one player who rarely makes headlines but is so valuable to her team’s success.
Oak Glen is no different. In fact, it has three.
The first two are the Golden Bears’ two lone seniors in second baseman Amber Moore and first baseman Alexis Holden. Moore bats seventh in the starting lineup, while Holden is a flex.
“Amber and Alexis have been solid defensive players. They’re having fun with the juniors and other underclassmen, and I’m so happy they have stuck it out,” head coach Sherrie Garner said.
“Alexis has been our flex player. She’s mainly been a defensive specialist and is our libero. She has come a long way and made great strides compared to other girls in her position for sure.”
Oak Glen is junior heavy, and it has a solid group of sophomores, as well. Even with that, senior leadership can be crucial for the state tournament.
“Being a senior, it’s such a bittersweet thing,” Moore said. “I’ve played with most these girls before but never like this. We work so well together, and we bond so well.
“Everybody is picking each other up — we are all leaders at this point. We all learn from each other. I’ve been telling my team, ‘Don’t let this be my last high school game,’ and we play our hearts out. It’s a one-of-a-kind team.”
Following Moore in the batting order is outfielder Grace Smith, who has been producing a few extra runs here and there during the tournament. It may not sound like much, but just getting on base at least once a game provides the Bears a huge spark.
“Grace brings a lot of intelligence and experience to the game,” Garner said. “She’s part of the junior group that is very close. She has a lot of interest to perform for her team. She’s a team player for sure. She’s had some bumps and bruises, but she has told herself she can’t hang on to them and has to move on. That’s helped her maturity for sure.”
Smith walked during Game 2 of the Class AA Region 1 tournament Tuesday against Keyser and later scored on No. 9 hitter Emma Renfro’s run-scoring single. Smith also contributed a single in the title-clinching Game 3 on Wednesday.
“Earlier this season and in previous seasons, I have struggled at the plate. Throughout this time, I stayed determined and persistent in practicing on my own and taking extra reps,” Smith said. “I wanted so badly to produce and contribute to my team’s success. I never gave up, and I kept working no matter how discouraged I felt.”
Then there is Lizzie Kell. By no means is she underrated or flies under anybody’s radar anymore, especially with her work inside the circle during regionals.
What does go unnoticed at times, however, is her play in center field and as the No. 2 hitter.
“She has done her job over and over again in all of her positions,” Garner said. “She has gotten better every step of the way. She’s just very good at what she does. She was completely on (Wednesday). Lizzie has a lot of spirit, and I can’t say enough about that and the rest of the girls.”
Unless it is inside the park, Kell does not have the pop to smoke home runs like Maddie McKay. She has yet to come up with a clutch game-tying or go-ahead RBI hit like the Brown sisters (Sydney and Sarah), Olivia Munoz or Makayla Zoellers have done throughout the tournament.
Unless she starts in the circle, those are the reasons why Kell rarely makes headlines. However, in the same breath, a key reason why the names mentioned earlier come up with the clutch at-bats is Kell doing a little bit of everything. She will lay down a bunt no matter how many outs there are. She will steal second and third base whenever she pleases. In center field, she covers a lot of ground to help her fellow teammates.
“This is the best feeling ever, knowing all our hard work from this year is paying off,” Kell said. “We knew Keyser would be a tough team to get past, so we really dialed in and tried to take it one game at a time.
“I personally didn’t want to go into states undefeated with a target on our back. Them beating us and ruining our perfect season lit a fire under us. I knew coming home to the community would give us so much more energy during the game.”
Oak Glen begins its quest for a state title at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday against Independence. If successful for the win and for the rest of the tournament, it will be because everybody played a part, even if it goes unnoticed. Garner and the Bears will know, and that is all that will matter.
“Every game is a championship game at this point, and that’s how every game needs to be played,” Moore said. “The support we have is crazy, when we go out onto that field and see all the fans crowded around is an amazing feeling. We’ve never had this much support before, and it feels great knowing all these people are behind us and keeping us going.”
“This whole season — and especially the postseason — has been very surreal,” Smith said. “It feels so good to be part of something that is receiving so much love and support from the community. I know we are making our friends, family and each other so proud, and that feeling is unmatchable. This team is making history, and I am so grateful to be part of it.”