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Falcon Season, As I Recall
The Lady Falcons softball team walked down the gravel hill back in mid-February with one goal in mind; to reach the 2A State Championship. A feat that had eluded them one year prior in a heartbreaking game three loss to East Rutherford.
The year started off with some adversity. Mallory Choplin went down with a broken finger in the first scrimmage game of the year. The ASU commit left a gaping hole in the outfield and in the batting order. With key games on the non-conference schedule, other Falcons rose to the challenge. Jessie Hunter, Alex Wingler and Savannah Henry were among the ones to fill the spot in the outfield in Choplin's absence. Savannah Yale slid into the two spot and contributed a number of hits and RBIs. The team wasn't at its best, but it was still a formidable opponent; incurring only one loss while Mallory was missing.
The Falcons hit their stride in conference play. With everyone back in the lineup the team displayed a rare skill set not seen by most high school teams. This team had pitching, hitting and defense. Even when the team didn't play well it still pulled away from its opponent. The Falcons dominated the conference and the conference tournament with grace and class. The groundwork was done and the path laid out. The Lady Falcons had earned home field advantage throughout the playoffs; something that played a dramatic role in the loss to East Rutherford in 2014. It wasn't going to be easy, but expectations were to get to Raleigh.
The playoff run was something special. Members of the community poured out to add a special flare to each and every game. The Falcons didn't disappoint as the team came from behind against West Lincoln and Franklin in back-to-back games to continue its season. With only one win standing between the Falcons and the State Championship, the Falcons loaded all of its weapons on the bus and headed up the mountain. The coaches were introduced to the movie, "Pitch Perfect" followed by the team's own rendition, slightly off key. Nothing would stand in the way of this team that night. When the dust settled the Falcons had punched its ticket to Raleigh with a 14-1 thumping of the Panthers. State Championship, check!
The Falcons would be matched up against the Vikings of South Granville. Another skilled team that boasted good pitching, hitting and defense. The best of three series was set to played on Friday night and Saturday morning, and then again Saturday evening if necessary.
After the pregame festivities, the Falcons got to bat first in game 1. Allison Mitchell led off with a walk, but was forced out at second as Miranda Barker of South Granville collected the Choplin bunt and wheeled to second for the out. The play was very close, and the call could have went either way. It would be like that for the entire series. Close plays, tough calls and narrow misses separated the two teams. After seven complete innings the two teams could not decide a winner. Kelsey Swaim had driven in the lone run for the Falcons with a double to left field while the Vikings had scored on a sacrifice fly. The game continued into the 8th....9th....10th, and finally ended in the 11th. South Granville got the key hit that both teams had been looking for the entire night. With a runner on first by way of a bunt single, White delivered a deep fly ball off the top of the fence in center field. The ball ricocheted by Choplin as the speedy Tilley came home with the game winning run. The Falcons ended the game with ten hits compared to nine for the Vikings, but could only manage one run.
Game 2 was set for 11am on Saturday and the two teams and two pitchers would lock horns again. The Falcons needed a win to force a game 3 while the Vikings could close things out with a win.
The Vikings struck first, catching a break in the first inning. After a leadoff single by Boone and a sacrifice bunt, Mundy popped a ball up to right field. Swaim camped under the ball for the out, but Boone tagged up and took off for third base. Swaim rifled the ball in toward third base, but the ball struck the runner and deflected by Mitchell. An alert Boone raced home to put the Vikings on the board.
The Vikings added to their lead in the top of the 3rd inning as Mundy homered to left, driving in two runs to make the score 3-0. The door on the Falcons' season looked to be closing until Mitchell pumped the life back into the team and crowd with a two run homer of her own in the bottom half of the 3rd inning to cut the lead back to one at 3-2.
Mundy homered again in the 6th inning to try to put the game on ice. However, Mitchell was not ready to give up. She reached on a ground ball to shortstop and was moved to second by Choplin. Wooten followed with a single up the middle to score Mitchell, and Miller added another single to put runners on first and second. It looked like another comeback win in the making, but the Falcons could not push across the tying run. The 7th inning came and went with the final out being a line drive directly at the third baseman.
After 18 innings played in just over 19 hours, the Vikings of South Granville had scored 6 runs on 16 hits and committed 2 errors. The Falcons had scored 4 runs on 16 hits and committed 3 errors. These two great teams could have played all weekend, but this time the championship belonged to the Vikings. Well played Lady Falcons and congratulations Lady Vikings!
A successful season comes to an end for the Falcons with a final record of 27-3. Three seniors depart from the program with their heads held high, and the rest come back for another season of memories. Thanks to the community and players for the wonderful ride!
Allison Mitchell, Taylor Wooten and Savannah Yale put on a defensive show during the two game series. The trio combined (along with Logan Wood) to turn four double plays in two games. Two of those double plays were 5-4-3, around-the-horn varieties that are not common place in high school baseball or softball.
None of these girls made an error during the series, and were a large factor in keeping the Viking offense at bay.
Savannah Yale was also awarded the Sportmanship Award before the start of game 1. Well deserved!
Coach Helton took over for Coach Rachel Davis this year in what most believed to be a dream job. It is true that he was handed the reins to a team destined for greatness with five or maybe even six college committs on the field. However, with great expectations comes great responsibility.
Coach Helton didn't take any steps backward. He pushed the girls to become better each and every day. He held them accountable for their actions and pushed them to do the same with each other. He delegated roles to the coaching staff based on their talents, and in the end he found a successful combination.
The work that he put into the program has lived up to the coaches that held the position before him. However, this isn't the most impressive aspect of Coach Helton's first year at the helm. What made Coach Helton a true Falcon is that he did all of this work and still managed to support the other programs at Forbush High School.
Even during the playoffs, Coach Helton managed to support the women's soccer team. After practice or games Helton would stop by the field and watch from the Fieldhouse area in the stadium. That is what made him the right choice for the job. Not all coaches would take time out of their busy schedule to support another program; especially during the regional championship week.
Congratulations Coach Helton on a great first year!