In a perfect world, it would have ended differently.
That 1-0 lead after one inning would have held, Liberty-Bedford would not have gotten to Turner Ashby pitcher Makayla Cyzick and the Knights would have dogpiled somewhere on the diamond in elation.
The Knights’ fans would have screamed, coach Clint Curry would have gotten bathed in ice water from a cooler and Bridgewater would be rocking, celebrating the softball program’s first state title since 2004. And seniors Carley Davis, Ashton Richmond and Cyzick would be sent off to their next adventures in life with gold in their hands, smiles on their faces and eyes filled with tears of joy.
But the world isn’t always perfect. Just ask Minettes shortstop Rieley Taylor, whose two first-inning defensive gaffes — five total for the game — let that go-ahead run score.
Eventually, Turner Ashby’s lead disappeared into the sunny skies of Salem when Liberty plated one run in the fourth. Two more in the fifth gave Liberty the lead, and just as she had been all day, Minettes hurler Millie Thompson remained unhittable. And just as it hadn’t been all day, a Liberty defense that ended with six errors was suddenly stout, robbing runs from the Knights when they finally started to put batters on the basepaths.
And here’s where it ended, with Turner Ashby losing 4-1 in the Virginia High School League Class 3 softball championship game, and the seniors, those three seniors, sharing a hug in right field.
These weren’t tears of joy, this was pain. That wasn’t a smile on the face of Davis buried under her jersey. That was realization.
This was the end for the three of them. No more Turner Ashby uniforms, no more time with her “16 sisters,” Richmond said, moments after putting her face in the arm of a fan and sobbing.
“It has hard,” Richmond said. “Just knowing this is the last time I’m playing with 16 best friends. It hurts, we worked so hard and did all this work. We wanted first.”
Man, that would have been ideal.
Instead, Cyzick half-heartedly — and briefly — held the second-place trophy, never taking her eyes off the Liberty dugout as the Minettes were called out for the gold the Knights wanted. Davis couldn’t bear to look, turning the moment Liberty ran out to get the ultimate prize, tears still in her eyes.
“I didn’t want to watch any part of it,” Davis said. “Not trying to be rude to them, but it was hard. Just hard.”
The rest of the Knights followed suit, heading to right field for a sit-down pow-wow with Curry who did his best to hold all 16 of those heads as high as he could.
“We didn’t get the win, it just wasn’t our day,” he said. “We got a lot to be proud of, too.”
He’s right, they do.
One year after being ahead of schedule with a state quarterfinal trip, the Knights went two steps further in his third year, playing in TA’s first state championship game since 2014.
That’s thanks to the three seniors, all of which are heading separate ways.
Davis is off to Elon where she’ll play for the Phoenix. Cyzick, who was a dropped-bunt away from being perfect in Thursday’s semifinals, will drag her toes through the dirt in the circle at Winthrop. Richmond, who plans to attend Blue Ridge Community College before transferring to either Bridgewater College or James Madison, will miss them both.
They’ll all miss each other.
“I can’t wait to go watch them play in college,” Richmond said.
Davis’ eyes got redder; Cyzick couldn’t handle thinking about it. At Elon and Winthrop, those two will be about an hour apart.
“But Ashton …” Davis said, unable to finish.
From Bridgewater, Cyzick will be about five hours away, Davis a touch closer. There will be trips and plenty of money spent on the FloSports’ Colonial Athletic Association sports package, Richmond said with a laugh.
That will have to do.
“The loss really sucks,” Cyzick said. “But just knowing that I’m never going to get to put on a Knights jersey and play with Ashton and Carley again, it’s hard.”
And that’s what hurt the most.
So, in the outfield, before heading toward the fans who waited to console the players, the three seniors stopped and looked at each other, their eyes still red with tears.
This was indeed the end.
“It’s tough,” Curry said. “Them three girls right there, they’re special to me. They’re in my heart and they know it. To lose kids like that, leadership, talent like that? It’s tough. It’s really tough.”
And there, in right field, Cyzick pulled Davis and Richmond in tight for one last hug as Knights.
It was almost perfect.