Softball featured dramatic rallies, historic seasons, inspirational players and a whole lot of reasons to celebrate in 2011. Here are 10 stories we’ll remember well into the New Year.
The Woodlands put together one of the best seasons in Texas history, posting a 44-1 record to claim the Class 5A state championship and the POWERADE FAB 50 national championship. The Highlanders beat defending champion Pearland 6-0 in the semifinals and then clipped O’Connor (San Antonio) 7-5 to win the championship. Faith Bohack and Jessica Snyder hit home runs to back pitcher Paige McDuffee, who ended her season with a 37-1 record.
Pitcher Erin Gabriel of Poland Seminary, the Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year for Ohio, became the lone high schooler to represent the United States as a member of the Junior National Team. She also was the first player from Ohio ever to be selected to the squad. The senior, who plans to play at Tennessee next year, went 1-0 as the U.S. won the 2011 ISF Junior Women’s World Championship in South Africa in mid-December.
With two outs and two strikes and her team trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning of the CIF Southern Section Division I championship, Lauren Sweet of Santiago (Corona, Calif.) hit a grand slam to give her team a 4-1 win. Sweet was later named an Under Armour All-American, the Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball Player of the Year and an ESPNHS first-team All-American. Santiago's victory also enabled the Sharks to finish No. 1 in the final state rankings and No. 5 in the final POWERADE FAB 50.
Catcher Bella Secaira of Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, Calif.), who suffered a collapsed lung, a spinal-cord fracture and a concussion after falling 30 feet from the roof of her apartment building in June, recovered and returned to her club team with a new perspective. “You strike out five times, your life’s not over,” she told the Orlando Sentinel in September. “Are you healthy? Are you happy? Then you're good.” Secaira expects to be back playing for her high school team in the spring and has given a verbal commitment to the University of Utah.
It was quite a year for lefty pitcher Paige McDuffee. Arguably the top recruit in the country, McDuffee decommitted from LSU and then committed to UCLA after legendary LSU head coach Yvette Girouard retired. McDuffee also won the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year Award after she led The Woodlands (Texas) to a state and national title.
After a six-month battle with cancer, pitcher Katie Crandol of Andrean (Merrillville, Ind.) celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. After Crandol was diagnosed with the disease in March, doctors removed a three-inch tumor from her brain, and she underwent rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. In October, an MRI came back clear. Through it all, the community rallied around the Crandol family -- softball teams cleaned her parents’ house and cooked meals, T-shirts were sold, dinners were hosted in her honor and local businesses held fundraisers. Now Crandol can start to look ahead to 2012. “This spring I want to get out there and show my coach -- all of them -- that I can do it,” she told nwitimes.com in November.
With her big bat, Shelby Holley of Pisgah (Ala.) set two national home run records in 2011. Her last blast, which came in her final at-bat, set the single-season mark at 35. For her career, Holley hit 72 home runs, another national record. Holley’s record-setting season helped lead Pisgah to the Class 3A state championship. She has signed with Jacksonville State.
Down by a run and down to their final out, the SoCal Athletics staged a dramatic rally to defeat the favored Worth Firecrackers and claim their second consecutive PGF Nationals national championship. "Our team was on the same page in the dugout because we had done it last year,” catcher Aubree Munro said. “We were all like, 'We can do this!' It's never over with our team."
Playing in their final game before heading off to college, Team Swagger got an extra-inning, walk-off double from Sara Driesenga to defeat Team Hype 6-5 at the 2011 Under Armour All-America Game at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Driesenga, who was named MVP, is set to play at Michigan in the spring.
Beverly Bandits, a top travel team based in Illinois, won the Louisville Slugger Independence Day Tournament in Boulder, Colo., for the second time in four years. By winning one of the summer’s biggest and best tournaments, which is a combination of recruiting and championship play, the Bandits showed that softball is alive and well throughout the country.