New head coach, a handful of new starters, same winning attitude.
That’s a short description of the Brookstone softball team through the first month of the season, as it has won 15 of its first 18 games and currently sits atop the private half of the Class A power poll.
An 8-5 loss on Wednesday at home to region foe Hawkinsville, which is No. 1 in the public power poll, did little to dampen the team’s expectations.
“We know it isn’t a sprint,” said coach Nate McConnell, in his first year as a head coach after replacing Debbie Ball during the offseason. “It’s a marathon. It’s not like football. The thing I love about softball is that we’re going to have a chance to get back out there and make up for (the loss) right away.”
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The loss itself was a combination of some missed opportunities, a few mistakes McConnell says the team doesn’t usually make, and a first-class opponent that also has designs on a region championship.
After the two teams battled to a stalemate at 0-0 through four innings, Hawkinsville struck first, bringing home the game’s first run on an RBI single by Michelle Simmons. She brought home Kelli Long, who had reached first on an error to start the inning.
Immediately after falling behind, the Lady Cougars put four on the board in the bottom half of the inning, however. Emily Timmons and Caroline Sparks both hit RBI singles and Elle Turner knocked an RBI double, which appeared to give Brookstone a firm hold on the game.
The game got away in the sixth, however, when Lady Cougars pitchers combined for five walks in the inning, allowing seven runs to score. Another RBI single by Turner in the seventh wasn’t enough to get Brookstone back into the game by that point.
Despite the one-inning lapse, however, McConnell praised the job his pitchers and defense have done throughout the season. Without them, he said, this team doesn’t win 15 of its first 17 games
“(KayLynn Church) is 7-1 and (Helen Snavely) is 8-1 coming into today,” McConnell said. “We’re 15-2 for a reason. Today was just one of those days.”
The success, McConnell said, really comes down to the team’s attitude and approach on a daily basis. It isn’t always easy for a new coach to gain the respect of his or her team. Even though McConnell was an assistant under Ball, he still came into the year with the same challenge any first-time head coach faces.
The players’ commitment, he said, has made the job that much easier.
“They’ve exceeded my expectations,” he said. “They’ve found a way to come together and accept me as a head coach. They just believe in what we’re trying to teach them. That’s what has made the difference.”
Asked for one word to describe his team, McConnell gave an appropriate answer: One.
“We’re family,” he said. “We’re one.”
Players know their roles, and they don’t try to do too much more than that. Wednesday, McConnell allowed, may have been an exception.
The loss not withstanding, though, Brookstone has been a force to be reckoned with over the course of the first month. It is at the point, also, that a start like that gives credence to some even bigger expectations, but McConnell didn’t talk about that.
Right now, his team is focused on the next game, and leaving the most recent one in the dust.
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Wednesday at Brookstone
Hawkinsville 000 017 0—8 8 5
Brookstone 000 040 1—5 9 4
WP— Brianna Simmons. LP— Helen Snavely. Hitting leaders—Hawkinsville, Michelle Simmons 2 for 4, 2 RBIs, Madi Brown 1 for 3, RBI, Brianna Simmons 1 for 3, RBI; Brookstone, Emily Timmons, 1 for 3, RBI, Caroline Sparks 1 for 4, RBI, Elle Turner 3 for 4, 2B, 3 RBIs. Records— Hawkinsville, 12-1, 3-0; Brookstone, 15-3, 2-1. Next— Hawkinsville, Sept. 12 vs. Dooly County; Brookstone, Sept. 16 vs. Dooly County at home (DH).