In athletics and life, the finish does not always turn out the way we want it to. Losses and disappointments in the heat of the moment heal over time, but it still hurts when the result is not what you worked so hard for.
In a perfect world, the Newnan Lady Cougars softball team would have won their first round playoff series against Hillgrove. After their backs were against the wall just 24 hours earlier and they picked themselves up to a late inning victory, surely winning the third and deciding game would be next. But fate does not check in with emotions first; she just deals her hand and lets the participants handle the outcome.
On Tuesday, the Hillgrove Lady Hawks seemed in control throughout. They had manufactured an early lead in Game One and made it hold up and looked to be doing the same in Game Two.
But there is a certain indescribable grit to the Lady Cougars. It is an intangible quality that just shows up when the chips seem to be down. After adding a single run in the fifth to cut the lead in half at 4-2, they waited until their last at-bat to make their move.
Senior leadoff hitter Kaylen Madrey opened the inning with a single, and Lily Meuninck tapped a single to left which dropped because the Hillgrove defense was so deep. London hit a deep fly to right field that was caught but allowed Madrey to score and Meuninck to move up to second.
That brought freshman Maddie Veal to the plate. She sent a single up the middle to tie the game. But their loudest noise was still to come. Smith came up and crushed a homer to deep center, and Newnan had the first lead of the night at 6-4.
Veal, who came in to relieve Smith in the circle in the fourth inning, closed the game down, and the Lady Cougars lived to see Game Three with a 6-5 win.
Head Coach Carrie Gilmore said afterward, “She came through with the clutch hit; she is the reason there is a Game Three. Our seniors got us going; we wanted to put it in their hand. Our senior leadership is absolutely amazing; they just have a bond like no other.”
But then came Wednesday, a day filled with promise. Game Three started as it was supposed to. Starting pitcher Maddie Veal would get through the first inning unscathed. Then her offense would put up an early run by their senior-dominated lineup. After Madrey got on base, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch, Alex Williams drove her in. It was 1-0 Newnan.
Even after Hillgrove took the lead back at 2-1, the Lady Cougars tied it once again behind the skill and speed of Madrey. But from there, things slowly slipped away. Newnan eventually lost 5-2, and their season was over.
But that does not take away the moments, the wins, the friendship, the grit and the love for each other. Those things will last.
The seniors will move on to the next stop in life, and the younger players will step into their roles next time. It is how a team works, and just because the outcome was not what was wanted, no one would trade the road to get there.