HARTSVILLE, S.C. – The SCHSL Class 4A state championship and 29-0 record are what will define this year’s Hartsville softball team.
But Morning News Softball Coach of the Year Tommy Garrison said, in his eyes, it was about the journey.
“Just all the close ballgames and everyone contributing, that’s what I’ll remember,” Garrison said. “It wasn’t a one-person show. I bet seven different girls won seven different ballgames. It was a total team effort, the best team effort we’ve ever had.”
Indeed. This is the first Hartsville softball team to go wire to wire without losing a game.
One key was allowing the players to take ownership of the team.
“They just kind of policed themselves,” Garrison said. “They don’t let one get too ahead of the other. If someone got the big head, they’d pull her down.”
But, according to Garrison, that had been a Red Fox tradition.
“They’re kind of rough on the younger girls, but it makes them tougher when it gets to playoff time,” Garrison said. “They’ve been barked at enough. The seniors held them to a higher standard, like, ‘This is who we are, this is what we do. If you can’t do it, we’ll get the next person who can.’”
Garrison, who was an assistant under Jamie Horton when Hartsville won the 2016 3A state crown, did not know what to expect when this season began.
“We thought it was going to be kind of a rebuilding year,” Garrison said. “We lost both of our starting pitchers (Taylor Watford, Liz Stroud). We basically lost five starters, and that left us four returners with any varsity experience. But we had kids come in and we never missed a beat.”
Among them were freshman pitcher Alyssa Poston, who went 20-0 on the mound with a 1.01 ERA in 146 innings along with 171 strikeouts. And Morning News Softball Player of the Year Abi Stokes not only batted .495 but went 9-0 on the mound with a 1.04 ERA and 36 strikeouts.
“They just astounded us,” Garrison said. “If they didn’t walk the batter, we could pretty much get them out. We tweaked things all year long. One of the things I’m proud of is, the 11 girls on the team played in 28 out of 29 games and that includes the state championship series. There wasn’t, per se, a starting nine. There was a starting 11.”
Among the key coaching decisions Garrison made was moving Te’Asia McPhail from shortstop to center field.
“There were just some fly balls hit to the outfield that weren’t caught because we didn’t have enough speed to run it down,” Garrison said. “But Te’Asia played in right field in 2016 when we won state, so we knew she could play there. She was just outstanding. It took her a little bit to buy in because she was always the big dog at shortstop. But once she realized she was going to be the bigger dog there in center, she just fell into that role.”
Garrison wondered how his team would have reacted had it lost a game. But he never had to find that out.
“If we had lost that second game during the state finals, we would have never probably won the third one because the girls had not lost all year,” Garrison said. “They didn’t know how to lose, and we didn’t know how they’d react if they lost.
“So, we felt like we had to win it in two.”
That, the Red Foxes did.