COLUMBUS — For Northwest Whitfield softball’s senior class, Saturday marked the last time they’ll wear the Lady Bruins’ blue and orange on the diamond.
For one of them, it was likely the last fast-pitch softball game of her career.
The Lady Bruins sent the Class of 2013’s Karlie Henson, Emily Boyd and Mykeah Johnson off in style Saturday with a dramatic 2-1 extra-inning victory against Madison County to win the Class 4A state championship.
For Boyd and Johnson, this was just the final game in Northwest colors. Boyd has verbally committed to play at Ole Miss — she is expected to sign next month — and Johnson is getting attention from college scouts.
Henson said she made a decision to stop her competitive playing days, win or lose, on Saturday.
“I don’t know. Probably,” the teary-eyed second baseman said when asked if she was first to cry. “I’ve decided not to play in college, so this was my last game. It was really important to me (to win).”
A four-year legacy including more than 100 wins, three Region 7-4A titles and three trips to Columbus would have likely still seemed incomplete without a state championship. In 2009 and 2011, Northwest fell short at the state tournament, finishing third and fourth. In 2010, the Lady Bruins didn’t make it to the final eight.
But after this year’s success, there’s no doubt about the legacy left at Northwest by Henson, Boyd and Johnson.
“They’ve wanted it for a long time — since they were freshmen,” said junior first baseman Mallory Souther.
Said Northwest coach Jason Brooker, who was in his first year as coach but knew well what the trio had accomplished before his arrival, “They deserve it. They’ve been busting their butts for three or four years.”
And it happened against the desired foe.
“This was my last year, last time and last chance,” said Johnson, a third baseman. “We actually wanted to play Madison County because they beat us our sophomore year.”
“It just makes it so much better, especially for it to be them who put us out sophomore year,” she said.
In this one, Boyd pitched all eight innings, allowing just one run on five hits and striking out seven.
Maybe it was fitting that the last batter she faced in her high school career was the victim of another Boyd strikeout, something she has done with alarming (to batters) regularity. She eclipsed the 1,000-strikeout mark Thursday in the Lady Bruins’ victory against Madison County in the second round of the tournament.
At the time Boyd threw that final pitch, Northwest was trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth, and a Madison County win would’ve forced a second do-or-die game right after — so there was no way she could’ve known her final pitch was a fastball for a swing and a miss.
“I really didn’t (know) at the time,” said Boyd, who was The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Player of the Year the previous three seasons. “It’s not that I didn’t have faith in my hitters. I knew we’d tie it up, but I also knew it wouldn’t be the ‘last’ as far as losing.”
She went hitless in three at-bats, and Johnson and Henson also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It didn’t matter, though, because the six juniors in the lineup stepped up both on defense and at the plate.
Aside from the six hits that crew collected, left fielder Macy Weeks and center fielder Colbie Thomas combined to catch three fly balls and shortstop Ashley Conner made two putouts, including one with runners on second and first and two outs in the seventh inning.
“Everyone played a part in it,” Weeks said. “Emily did awesome on the mound like she always does, but the defense made plays and we got the hits when we needed to.”
With the effort, those who still have one year left let the outgoers know the program would be in good hands next year.
“It’s going to be awesome, and we’re going to continue what we’ve done this year, if not better,” Thomas said.
But Henson, Boyd and Johnson won’t be there in 2013.
After so many wins, and three previous near misses, they wanted to finally get a title and their teammates wanted it for them, even if it took two-and-a-half stressful hours before Bayli Cruse’s walk-off, two-run home run finally clinched it.
“I was out the dugout the minute she hit it,” a choked-up Henson said. “I was saying all game, ‘OK, walk-off home run.’ I was just joking.
“Then it happened. I want to say, ‘Thank you,’ to her for making my season great.”