Lessons learned by Lady Tigers
If there was ever a single game that epitomized an entire season, it was Wednesday night.
Columbia first battled back from an early 6-0 deficit against Bartram Trail in the regional quarterfinals only to then fall behind again 9-6.
Resilient as ever, the Lady Tigers responded again with three more runs to tie the game.
Then they took the lead.
Then it was tied one last time before they finally pulled out a thrilling 11-10 victory that sends them to Tuesday’s regional semifinal against district rival Gainesville.
Does any of this sound familiar?
That game represented the ebbs and flows that’s been Columbia’s 2016. Up and down went the Lady Tigers’ season — a season that saw an average start, a five-game losing streak and a run of 10 victories in their final 14 games before their playoff win over the Lady Bears.
“Like I tell the girls, everything is building blocks and stepping stones until the end of the season and we use different experiences throughout all of our games to help us,” Columbia head coach Trudy Andrews said. “When we got down 6-0 in that first inning and they came back in, we just kind of said, ‘hey, use the Trinity [Christian] game as an example. You all came back [five] runs in that game. No big deal. Just start right here, be confident and play.’ But every game we play is a learning lesson.”
It’s been a wild ride so far for a young squad that includes five freshmen. The youngsters have been relied upon heavily, especially pitcher Cris’Deona Beasley and first baseman Dara Gaylard.
Beasley entered Wednesday’s playoff game down 9-6 and only surrendered one run over the final four innings. Gaylard also had an RBI while freshman third baseman Story Giebeig drove in two more.
“I’ve got awesome freshmen,” Andrews said. “I don’t think a team with as many as five that we have comes and plays like this. We’re fortunate enough to have five awesome freshmen so it’s exciting.”
Beasley has been Columbia’s go-to ace, posting a team-best ERA of 3.21 in 24 appearances and 18 starts. She’s also done plenty at the plate, hitting a freshman-best .323 at the plate.
Then there’s Gaylard, who is third on the team with four home runs and 20 RBI and has a freshman-best on-base percentage of .376.
“She’s quiet and just goes out there and does her thing,” Andrews said. “She’s our quiet but deadly. She just does her job. She doesn’t let the pressure get to her. She reads the ball well and then she’s playing a mean first base too.”
A five-game losing streak early in the season could’ve dragged such a young squad into a dark place, but not these Lady Tigers.
They only used it as motivation.
“We definitely had a change of mindset,” Gaylard said. “We just thought we had to get through districts.”
“I knew we could overcome it.”
It didn’t hurt having a teammate who had been there just a season ago. Sophomore S.K. Lewis struggled at times as a freshman but has prospered as Columbia’s leadoff hitter this season. She’s hitting .400 with 15 RBI and a team-high 21 runs scored.
“I know that last year for me I had a lot of mental struggles and I think that this season the freshmen have kind of had a lot of confidence in themselves and that’s great,” Lewis said. “I think our team has done a great job of pumping them up too and not letting them get down on themselves.”
The Lady Tigers’ love and trust of one another has kept them motivated all season long.
It’s what kept their heads up against Bartram Trail.
And it’s what they hope finally helps to them defeat Gainesville in Tuesday’s regional semifinal.
“They all know if they do make a mistake they’re okay because their teammates are going to step up and have their back and that’s what we did (Wednesday) night,” Andrews said.
Another lesson learned.
On to Tuesday night.