Brookstone is lone local team left in state tournament
By DAVID MITCHELL
The Brookstone softball team played a game against Schley County at the end of September, a loss that disappointed both the players and coach Nate McConnell.
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McConnell didn't speak to the team during a quiet bus ride home, senior Caroline Sparks said. When they arrived back at the Brookstone parking lot, he finally broke his silence.
"We got back to the school, and he closed the gates at the top of the hill and said, 'All right, let's get out,'" Sparks said. "He said, 'Let's go.' He put a line down and he started running up and down the hill with us. Finally, one of us beat him, and he said, 'When someone wants it as bad as I do, then we'll be successful.'"
Fast forward a few weeks and his words, which Sparks said the players really took to heart, have been proven true.
The Lady Cougars open play in the GHSA Class A state private-school tournament against First Presbyterian Day at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the South Commons softball complex.
It's a position they were in two seasons ago, but the team feels that it as a much better chance at success this year.
"We had never been in that situation before, so we had no idea what to expect," Sparks said. "We went in just thinking it'd be fun. This year, we know what to expect. We've been able to mentally prepare for it."
"We're more focused," junior Elle Turner added. "We know how to handle
Brookstone is the only team left standing from the Bi-City area. Harris County was among the final 16 teams in Class AAAAA, but bowed out to Northgate a win shy of the state tournament.
McConnell said his team is where it is because of the teams in this area, and it is proud to carry the torch.
"I've learned a lot from those coaches just being around them," he said. "They're a big reason we're here, because I take a little bit from everybody."
McConnell didn't offer an assessment of his team's chances in the tournament, but did say he felt like there was something different about this year's team than the past couple years that could help it find success.
"I've only been around here for three years, but there's just something a little different about the atmosphere this year," said McConnell, who was an assistant under former coach Debbie Ball the past two seasons. "I mean, we were down 2-0 in the second game against Calvary Day last week. We had two outs and two strikes in the final inning, but got a runner on and everybody kept believing. It says a lot about their character."
It also says a lot about the drive of the team that it held a practice immediately following the win against Calvary.
"It motivated us," Turner said simply.
McConnell said he hasn't focused too much on his potential opponents. He knows a little about First Presbyterian Day, but with six other teams playing, it's impossible to know everything about everybody.
The important thing, he said, is to worry about themselves and have a short memory.
"You can't let the past linger, no matter what happens," he said. "If you hit a home run or you strike out, you have to have a short-term memory for your next at bat. Live for that moment."
That's what the team will be focused on as it tries to play all three days and win a state championship for the first time since 2003.
"I think I can speak for everyone when I say how exciting that would be," junior Isabel McCluskey said.
With a win in the opener Thursday, Brookstone would play another game at 6 p.m.
A loss would mean it wouldn't play again until 9 a.m. Friday.
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.