An emotional rollercoaster
- EDITOR'S NOTE - Edgewood coach Shelley Monas graciously granted the Star Beacon's Bob Ettinger inside access for the journey to the Division II state softball tournament on Thursday in Ashland. This is his report.
Warriors display guts, excitement, disappointment and, finally, amazing courage.
The Edgewood softball team did everything in its power to treat its Division II state semifinal game with LaGrange Keystone Thursday afternoon at Ashland's Brookside Park as just another ballgame.
Circumstances far beyond the young Warriors' control dictated otherwise, however.
"We're doing things the same way we have all year, ladies," Edgewood coach Shelley Monas could be heard saying throughout the day. "It's just another ballgame. Nothing's changed, guys."
And if one didn't know exactly what the Warriors were facing with their first trip to the Final Four, it would appear the team did exactly that.
Scheduled to depart at 8 a.m., the charter bus rented with the help of a handful of generous donors, was delayed 10 minutes.
"Do we have a catcher yet?" assistant coach Glen Campbell asked.
Moments later, senior catcher Kayla Funk hurried from her car to the bus and was greeted by Alexi Cash with a bit of friendly sarcasm.
"You know, just because you graduated last night doesn't mean you can be late," Cash chided.
After leaning into the bus aisle for a picture, because as photographer Renee Dragon reasoned, "You'll be grateful for this one day," the bus pulled away from the curb and began its sojourn for Ashland.
After leaving the parking lot in back of the school, the bus made a turn into the circular drive in front of the building, where the entire student body was in front of the building cheering the team's departure.
"Ahh, that's so cool," several Warriors responded as the team crowded to the windows nearest the students and began waving.
"I had heard there was going to be a sendoff," Monas said. "It's nice to know the school's behind you."
"It's really neat," assistant coach Ashley Barker said. "The whole school seems to be excited."
With the band pounding away at the Warriors' fight song, the bus made a slow crawl through the drive and made it's way to the highway.
"Let's do another lap," Lauren Childs said.
"It gives me a warm feeling," Funk said. "They're happy for us. That was a thoughtful thing to do. How do you forget something like that?"
The answer was clear, if not spoken at that point. Despite the cheery sendoff, there was also a cloud of despair hanging over the team.
With the movie "A League of Their Own" in the VCR, the team settled in for the trip. An hour down the road, the team called WYBL (98.3, The Bull) disc jockey Roger McCoy and his crony Scony Pierson.
"Hi Roger," the team shouted before the Rowdy Redneck talked to Monas and a few players.
Cell phones began ringing. Parents, listening to the show, were calling to tell their players they heard the interviews.
The mood lightened a little as Rachel Wolford began to stir.
"My mom thought that was me," Wolford cracked. "Then she realized it was Kayla. Kayla, you publicity hog!"
Wolford struck again a little later, this time because she was having trouble sitting still.
"Woo-hoo! You know how big a game this is, ladies!"
"That's Rachel," Funk kidded. "She can't sit still."
When asked about how relaxed everybody was on the surface, the answer seemed to be, simply, because that's just the way they are.
"We're just not a serious team," Wolford said. "What's there to be nervous about? It's how we pump ourselves up. We're pretty screwballish."
We're just trying to enjoy every moment," senior Jill Moga said. "Being nervous just takes away from all that."
"Once we get into our routine, we'll be totally focused," junior shortstop Trisha Dreslinski said.
As the bus pulled to a stop just outside the main entrance, Monas half seriously said, "Recognize this, ladies? This is the restroom."
Parking the bus right where it was, the team marched into the ballpark to watch part of the first Division II semifinal between Urbana and Circleville. Minutes later, the PA announcer paged the "Astaboola" Edgewood bus driver and asked him to move the bus from in front of the restrooms.
"Rachel, go move the bus," Liz Wilson cracked drawing another round of chuckles.
Showing they were still loose, the team let up a hearty roar of laughter before heading to a muddy practice field for warmups. With most of the team running around the mud holes left by recent rains Wolford jogged right down the middle of one.
"Champions run through mud," Wolford said.
A pall still hung over the Warriors, though they were able to laugh a little.
Edgewood (25-4) went on to lose to a talented Wildcats' team, 5-0. A memorable state tournament run was ended. But the Warriors will remember more than the score of Thursday's loss in their first state tournament game.
Late Wednesday night, word began to spread that left fielder Amber Adley's brother, Eddie, had passed away. The news spread to the majority of the team throughout the night and a somber group of Warriors arrived at the school on Thursday morning expecting Adley to, understandably, miss the game.
Adley, however, felt it necessary to join her teammates on the pilgrimage to the state tournament.
"I think when I look back on this, I won't remember it because of softball," Moga said. "Amber is truly an inspiration, I'll take that from today. I have to applaud her. I really look up to her."
On the bus ride back to Ashtabula, Monas told of how Keystone coach Jim Piazza reached out to Adley following the game.
"We were talking to the girls in the huddle and (Piazza) came over and asked if he could speak with our left fielder," Monas said. "I said sure so he pulled Amber aside and handed her the game ball. That was a nice thing to do. Extremely nice."
When Monas was asked about Adley's toughness after the game, Monas showed what every one of her players had been feeling the whole day.
"What can you say?" Monas said. "She felt she needed to be here with her teammates today. That's what team is all about. Something like that for a 16- or 17-year old kid..."
A saddened Monas broke into tears before finishing the thought.
"That shows character for that individual to be here," Monas said.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.