By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
If ever there was a never-say-die team in the recent softball sectionals, it was Independence.
The Patriots rallied from a 6-0 deficit to defeat Liberty 9-7 in the Class AA Region 3, Section 1 semifinals, then came from three runs down in the seventh to again top the Raiders, 7-6 for the championship.
“It’s kind of weird. We give them a lead and then we come back,” coach Rick Lane said. “We’re a very, very young team.”
Lane, a coaching veteran in his first year at the Patriots’ helm, inherited a team with very little experience.
Pitcher Brooke Foley mainly played outfield last season, while shortstop Kelsey Hart was at second base. All three starting outfielders began this season as infielders.
It also didn’t help that Independence (6-11) got little quality practice time early because of the weather.
“This season has been an experiment with weather and youth,” Lane said. “It took me time to find where the pieces had to fall.”
He now starts three freshmen, two sophomores and three juniors.
The sole seniors, Hart and first baseman Kayla Meadows, helped hold the team together.
“Without those two seniors, it would have been very different,” Lane said. “They were patient, but they’d tell the girls what needed to be said. They were outstanding to let everything develop as it did.”
On four occasions the Patriots lost by one run. Sometimes the Patriots had five players out sick. Another game, against regional rival James Monroe, four players missed the game.
Foley kept her composure on the mound in games where the Patriots’ inexperience in the field would show.
“Brooke was the only player I’d coached before (in volleyball as a freshman). It helped to know her,” Lane said. “She’s a true competitor. She’s intense and a natural talent.”
The remainder of the lineup includes junior Elizabeth Epling (right field), sophomores Courtney Haga (second base) and Taylor Parker (third base), and freshmen Katy Lilly (catcher), Jessie Lilly (left field) and Savannah McCormick (center field).
“They’re really high-keyed kids, except for my two seniors,” Lane said. “They were so emotional during games that it took me a while to figure out my voice had to be calm.
“Against Liberty, when we were down three in the seventh, I told them I needed them to be calm and hit the ball. I wanted was singles, and they did it.
“It’s encouraging. These girls can go as far as they want to go.”
The Patriots will host Section 2 champion Westside at 5 p.m. Thursday at Larry T. Poe Field.
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