SULPHUR – Seconds after Holden recorded the final out of Saturday’s Class B championship game win over Forest, the ‘Three-peat’ chant broke out among the Lady Rockets fans sitting in the stands along the third base side of the field.
Yes, Holden is a three-time state champion in softball.
Yes, the cast of players on this team is pretty much the same as last season’s, but this team is different than the one before it.
It’s natural for any team to change from year to year, but this year's group seemed to undergo a change in identity from one season to the next.
All anyone in Frasch Park had to do was watch the Lady Rockets walking to their third-base dugout before the championship game. What stood out was some of the things players were wearing with their uniforms.
There were masks, oversized sunglasses and a mirror, just to name a few. Put it this way, when Holden players cleaned the dugout after the game, they had to pick up the plastic bags they carried their props in before the game.
And yes, there’s a rally hat, which is supposed to help the Lady Rockets when they need a big hit or a big play.
“The whole point of the rally hat is just to be goofy and make us get up in the dugout and play loose, and I feel like that’s what we did,” junior pitcher Olivia Lackie said. “There’s a lot more energy on the team than there was last year, even though we haven’t gotten anyone new.”
What does this have to do with softball? For this team, maybe it’s everything.
Holden’s roster featured three juniors, three sophomores, seven eighth-graders and one seventh-grader – no seniors or freshmen, creating a unique team dynamic, which actually may have made the Lady Rockets younger than last season’s team.
Because of that, second-year Lady Rockets coach Linzey Bowers may have adjusted her style a bit this season. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t tough on the team, it just means there were some slight changes, like allowing dancing on the bus before games to keep things loose.
“I’ve learned I’ve kind of had to step back a little bit, tone it down a few notches because they play better looser,” Bowers said. “I have to remind myself all the time they play better when they’re having fun. They play better when they’re like, ‘Coach, just let me do my own thing.’”
The way this team conducted itself was in stark contrast to last season, when the team was all business. There wasn’t much celebration after each win in Sulphur, and the Lady Rockets were almost stoic in accepting the championship trophy in 2018.
Don’t take that the wrong way. The players were excited, but they were expected to win a state title and did it. They got their trophy, took photos, and their mission was accomplished, allowing them to move to the outfield of the adjacent field to watch Doyle win a state title in Class 2A.
Flash forward to Saturday’s trophy presentation and things couldn’t have been any more different. For those who have never been or seen the postgame ceremonies, there are several parts leading up to the actual championship trophy presentation.
The runner-up trophy is presented, along with a game ball to that team’s coach. Then the championship team’s coach, in this case Bowers, is presented with a game ball.
After that, the game’s outstanding player is recognized, in this case Lackie for a third straight year. As Lackie made her way back to her teammates, they bowed in her honor, with third baseman Emma Hutchinson providing a curtsy out of respect.
During this process, some of the Lady Rockets’ younger players got maybe a little too excited. There were a couple of false starts as players took off with an eye on getting their hands on the championship trophy.
Yeah, it was funny, but more than anything, it showed that this team wasn’t afraid to have fun, even if it meant being a big embarrassed in front of a large crowd. When it came time to get the trophy, players were literally tripping over each other to get to the prize.
“I think we’re just having fun,” said junior catcher Ashley Fogg, whose RBI-triple sparked a four-run sixth inning and helped the Lady Rockets win the title. “We realized, yeah we can win, but we want to have fun doing it. We’re a young team. I guess it’s bringing the youngness out of us. It really pays off. It lets us have fun and know we can get the business done …”
Yeah, the Lady Rockets took care of business, falling behind Forest 1-0 before tying the game. The game stayed that way with Holden stranding nine runners before that big sixth inning. After the game, Bowers said the team’s different approach to games may have helped in the high-pressure situation.
“I told them, ‘Play like you’ve been here before. We can use that to our advantage,’” Bowers said. “It was fun. That felt like a championship game. I know everybody’s uptight until the sixth inning because it’s a tie ballgame – it’s anybody’s ballgame. But they never stopped believing in themselves, they never stopped believing in each other, and they never had a doubt that they weren’t going to win that ball game. That’s just what experience will do for you, and these kids are good.”
In the end, Bowers said there’s a common bond on this year’s team that’s got nothing to do with the players’ classifications.
“These girls don’t want to lose, and at the end of the day, that’s what keeps them together,” Bowers said. “That’s what keeps us in ball games, because they refuse to lose.”
Because of that, and maybe because they had a little fun along the way, the Lady Rockets are state champions again -- another bond that will always keep them together.
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