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Sectional loss cannot overshadow season success

By Tyler Whittamore, Sports Editor

The success of recent years has driven the expectations for the Franklin County varsity softball team to enormous heights. While the Lady Wildcats found themselves making an early exit in this year's Sectional 29 tournament, the team was able to set some remarkable records, and post the highest win-total in school history.

The secret for FC has been taking each game pitch-by-pitch, and each season game-by-game, without focusing on the big picture. Sure, the Lady Wildcats have set grand goals, but according to head coach Scott Davie, the team could not afford to look past the task at hand.

“We talk about the ladder of success and our goals, but we didn't address it during the season,” he said. “We knew what we were there to do, and we knew how to execute, but we just took care of ourselves and prepared the best we could, because one pitch or one play could make the difference.”

The 2017 season could not have begun better for FC. After taking out a tough Ross (Ohio) team on the road, the Lady Wildcats jumped right into Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference play by visiting defending conference champ Connersville a doubleheader. Franklin County trailed in both games, 1-0 and 5-0, but came back each time to sweep the Lady Spartans. Those early wins would go a long way in boosting the confidence of the Lady 'Cats, who took a strong early lead in the EIAC.

“We were able to walk out of (Connersville) and say that we were in first place, and were in charge of our own destiny,” Coach Davie said.

Franklin County lost its first game of the season on March 15, by splitting a doubleheader with Union County, but remained perfect in the conference until a tough loss at home to Greensburg in late April. The hiccup could have derailed the team and ruined FC's chance at a conference title, but the loss seemed to have the opposite effect. The Lady Wildcats rallied together, and rampaged through the end of the regular season, winning the final 10 games on the schedule. Seven of those wins came via a shutout, and three of them were by more than 10 runs.

Key wins over rival East Central, and a revenge win at Greensburg helped the Lady Wildcats earn their first EIAC title since 1999, finishing with a 13-1 league record. Now the team gets to put a new shiny trophy next to some that had begun to gather a little dust.

“We never took anything for granted, and after the Greensburg loss we hit the reset button,” Coach Davie said. “Our goal has always been to hang banners, and conference had become really important, considering how long it had been since the last one.”

Franklin County entered the Sectional 29 tournament at Madison on a roll. In the first round, FC dispatched Lawrenceburg, 4-1, to advance to the semifinals. Standing in their way were the Lady Spartans of Connersville. With everything riding on one game, Connersville pitcher, Jeri Ellis, stymied the Lady Wildcats for seven innings. After the last out, the Lady Spartans moved on with a 1-0 victory to become sectional champs.

“Both teams had a good game plan, but they executed a little better,” Coach Davie said. “I know our players were disappointed in how we batted, but we knew Jeri could be really good.”

Although Franklin County began the year with good reason to believe the team could make it back to regionals and semi-state, as was the case in 2015, things just did not materialize for the Lady Wildcats. When the dust settled, however, the team still finished the season with a 24-3 record, setting a new high for the FC team.

The Lady Wildcats did not just win a lot of games this year. Record-setting performances became a regular affair during the season, as individual accomplishments helped drive and sustain a great team. During the year, senior Brooke Otto became the all-time leader in several career records at Franklin County. Otto set the runs-scored record with 119. She also set the doubles record with 35. She hit six triples during the season for a total of 20 for her career, shattering the old record of 11. Late in the year, Otto broke the career RBI record, reaching 104.

The FC graduate tied her single-season record with 43 hits, on the way to setting the career hits record at 166. After a talented career, Otto will be setting the college stage on fire next season at University of Findlay.

“Brooke has held herself to such a high standard in her career,” Coach Davie said. “She is an amazing softball player, but she's also a great student and a good kid.”

Perhaps the most impressive record-breaking performance came during a home game against East Central on April 17. After coming close several times, junior Kamryn McCool was able to break the single-game record for most strikeouts, punching out 17 Lady Trojans.

McCool would go on to break her own single-season strikeout record with 219, as well as the career strikeout record with 601. McCool threw three no-hitters in 2017 and is second all-time at FC with 41 total wins. At the plate, McCool set the season record for RBI with 38 runs knocked in. She still has a year of softball left to play, and there are several more offensive and pitching records that she is approaching.

McCool, along with her twin sister, Kendall, will both return next season. In 2017, the pair pitched every inning for FC. By the end of the season, Kamryn owned the third best season ERA at 0.86, while Kendall was fourth best at 0.97. While their sibling rivalry pushes them to be better, according to Coach Davie, the pair is supportive of each other on the field. He believes that their presence on the field is a confidence boost for the rest of the team.

The Lady Wildcats relied on their top players and several role players to find success this season, but the team also saw some JV players come up and make an impact as well. Although they had limited at-bats, sophomore Lauryn Dessauer (.471 avg.) and freshman Sidney Wilbur (.455 avg.) both finished in the top four in batting average on the team. Their continued development, as well as the return of several top juniors, will keep the Lady Wildcats from needing to rebuild for another year of contention.

As it has always been, high school sports are about change. Four years can seem like a long time to an 18-year old, but the next chapter has to be written nonetheless.

Things change for coaches as well. At the end-of-the-year banquet, Coach Davie and assistant coach, Whitney Gillman, both announced that they are stepping down from the team. Being a coach requires monumental amounts of time, and with families of their own that need attention, the choice was made to move on from FC softball.

“The players on this team have changed the landscape of Franklin County softball,” Davie said. “This team has come a long way from nine wins a few years ago, to where it is now, and there is a lot of talent coming back.”

“I think every good coach should reflect at the end of the season and see where they're at as a person,” he added. “That's what prompted me to make a change. My kids are nine and seven, and they are involved in everything. They love that I coach, but I want to be at their games.”

While Davie has not ruled out coaching again in the future, his immediate plans do not involve softball at FC. With five seniors graduating and the loss of two coaches, big changes will be in store next year.

Fortunately, both Davie and Gillman leave the team in a better place than where they found it. Their influence will be felt for years to come, and the banners they helped hang will always remain.