Lady Cubs watch dream of a banner season jolted by COVID-19 reality
CLIFTON – In a perfectly normal world, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Softball State Playoffs would be well underway with a postseason field of teams vying for a spot in the State Tournament scheduled for May 27-June 1 at Red and Charline McCombs Field on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin.
But then again, there’s nothing perfectly normal about the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic world in which we live in.
Consequently for five senior Clifton Lady Cub softball players in the midst of the season of their dreams, their high school sports world came to an abrupt end April 17 when Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that all Texas schools would remain closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.
As a result, the UIL followed suit by cancelling all remaining spring activities, eliminating Clifton’s opportunity for an extended playoff run before it even had a chance to begin.
In the midst of winning eight of their last nine games, the Lady Cubs opened District 17-3A competition with three straight victories before their momentum came to a screeching halt when the UIL shutdown the season due to the pandemic March 13. Clifton (3-0 in district, 9-7 overall) had just completed a back-to-back, home-and-away sweep against defending co-district champion Whitney to take the early driver’s seat in the pennant chase.
“I have five seniors on my team this year, and this group was very talented together because of their cohesiveness,” Clifton softball head coach Sam Ledlow said. “We started off district beating Maypearl at home, and then taking on Whitney beating them twice. I know we were all ready for a great season and couldn’t wait to see how we would end up.”
After advancing to the Class 3A playoffs as the district’s fourth place team in 2019, the Lady Cubs opened this season by losing six of their first seven games. But behind the leadership of five seniors – Savannah Gayle, Audrey Anderson, Daniella Gaona, Bethann McMillan and Kamryn Kettler – Clifton continued to improve through the losses, building on that experience to take their game to the next level.
“I know all of us had been looking forward to this season and what these girls could accomplish,” Ledlow said. “This crisis left us all standing on edge as we waited to hear how or if we would get to finish this season. This team was a very determined group of young ladies. And I have no doubt that if we had been given the chance to finish this season, we would have been ready to get back on the dirt, picking up where we left off.”
Sadly, that opportunity never came. But despite the disappointment, Ledlow had some parting words praise about each of her 2020 seniors:
- Savanah Gayle played any position I needed her to and exceeded at all of them. She was an outfielder and a pitcher that gave us both wins against Whitney. She was calm in the circle and confident in the outfield. That, along with her knowledge of the game, made it fun to coach her.
- Audrey Anderson played center field and had a huge role defensively in our games throughout her career. She would sacrifice her body over and over again to make a play. Her speed and confidence out there were a big asset to our team. She could also slap on the left side as well as hit on the right side. And she was willing to do either, depending on the situation.
- Daniella Gaona played second base and led with her quiet spirit. It seemed like nothing phased her. She always worked well under pressure and came in clutch at big moments, both offensively and defensively. She was very determined at the plate and found ways to get on base. When she struggled at the plate, she was really good at having short-term memory loss, which allowed her to move on.
- Bethann McMillan came through for us when we needed her in the outfield. She was also willing to play anywhere and kept everyone on their toes when she would come up to bat. Her personality and comments kept everyone laughing when we needed them.
- Kamryn Kettler played first base, pitched and was a powerhouse at the plate. She brought knowledge and skill to the field that played a huge role in our games over her career. She could dig out any bad throw to make a great play at first. And she had such quick reflexes, enabling her to knock down line drives that came off the bat hot. Her poise and attitude at the plate made her a threat to our opponents.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to watch and coach these girls,” Ledlow said. “They were a special group to me that I’ll always remember. While I can’t stand the thought of not getting to finish this season out with them, I know the rest of us will remember their legacy they left on the softball diamond. Because of the amount of grit, hard work and perseverance it takes to be an athlete and succeed, this group learned how to overcome adversity over the years.”
“I have no doubt they will succeed in life and be able to look back on their high school softball memories and know they gave everything they had. I’m so proud of them and couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors to leave such a legacy.”
Photos by DAVID HARDING
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