West Jeff softball team reflects on their history-making season

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Photo courtesy of Beth Roberts
The Lady Riders celebrate their Div. III Region 12 championship on May 25: (front row, from left) Haley Kurtz, Lexi Bowman, Isabelle Fisher, Hannah Parsons, Brooke Roberts; (second row) McKenna Archey, Kora Huber, Raegan Kimbler, Morgan Boyd, Brianna Crigger; (back row) Peyton Filby, Lena Carsey, Kyla Huber and Abby Arteaga. They defeated West Liberty-Salem 4-2 at Wright State University in Dayton. With the victory, they advanced to the state final four in Akron.

(Posted June 6, 2019)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

West Jefferson High School’s softball team made history this year, winning the school’s first district and regional championships and making it to the final four in the state tournament. At the start of the season, no one saw it coming.

“We had five seniors but the team was also younger,” said senior catcher Lexi Bowman. “We thought it would be a decent season, but if you would’ve asked us if we were going to make it to the final four at state, we would’ve laughed.”

The same goes for Head Coach Jim Stevens, who said he never would have guessed the team would end up where it did. Part of that had to do with the players’ varying experience levels–some had eaten, breathed and slept softball for many years and some, by comparison, were relatively new to the game.

Haley Kurtz makes an over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory for an out against Cardington in the Div. III State Semi Finals in Akron Firestone Stadium on May 30. Cardington won the game 5-2.

“To be honest, early in the season, Tony Caldwell, my assistant coach, and I looked at each other and said, ‘We have to try to get these girls to work together as a team,’” Stevens said.

He credits his senior leadership for helping to make that happen. Bowman, pitcher Isabelle Fisher, shortstop Haley Kurtz, rightfielder Hannah Parsons, and third baseman Brooke Roberts showed the younger players the ropes. After a while, all of the players were lifting each other up.

Bowman said it was “cool to see how the team evolved over the season” and how everything clicked at tournament time.

“Once the tournaments hit, it was like, bam!, we were a team. After the first tournament game, we started shouting,’Family,’ out of the huddle. We all worked together.”

The Roughriders had made it to the district title game the past four years in a row, but each time came up short of a win. Team connectivity is what made the difference this year, said Fisher, who earned second-team all-state honors and finished the season with a 20-7 record, 1.93 ERA, and 192 strikeouts.

Catcher Lexi Bowman, a senior, makes the tag at home plate as Cardington attempts to score early in the state semi-final game.

“The past few years, we’ve had the talent to get there. This year, we didn’t have that raw talent, but we had a lot of heart,” she said.

One of Fisher’s favorite moments of the season was the team’s victory over Bishop Ready to win the Div. III district title.

“We were on Cloud 9 after that. It gives me goosebumps talking about it. Getting over that hump for our coaches was a good feeling,” she said, adding that after that, everything else was icing on the cake.

West Jefferson went on to the regionals, held at Wright State University in Dayton, where they beat Bellefontaine Benjamin 7-2 in the semi-finals and West Liberty-Salem 4-2 in the finals to advance to state semi-finals where they faced Cardington-Lincoln.

Third baseman Brooke Roberts, a senior, picks up the bunt and throws to first base for the out in the state semi-final game.

The game took place on May 30 in front of a crowd of a couple thousand people at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Cardington-Lincoln got out to a big lead, notching five runs in the first two innings. West Jefferson stopped their scoring from that point forward but came up short offensively. The final score was 5-2.

“I think our nerves got to us in the first couple of innings, but once the girls settled down, they were able to shut Cardington out and played how they have played down the home stretch of our season. They never give up and fight to the end,” Stevens said.

So many things made this season extra special, continued Stevens, who just completed his 15th year as West Jefferson’s head coach–getting to hang tournament championship banners in the gym, the players’ parents springing for coach bus transportation to regionals, sitting back and watching the team gel and finish in the top four of 186 Div. III teams across the state.

Senior pitcher Isabelle Fisher talks with her coaches, Taylor Bowman (hidden), Tony Caldwell and Jim Stevens after the state semi-finals in Akron.

“I am very honored to be part of their historic run towards a state championship. They are champions in many ways,” he said.

Stevens and Caldwell were joined on the Roughriders’ coaching staff by Taylor Bowman, a former all-state catcher.

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