After watching La Plata play in the district title game the last two years as a manager, Olivia Coy was excited to finally play in one herself.
She saw the highs as the Bulldogs won the district title in 2016, and the lows after they lost to Atlanta last year. Now she got to experience it firsthand, nerves and all, as a freshman.
GALLERY: Photos from La Plata and Atlanta's district championship game
“I was having a heart attack in the middle of the game and nervous the whole time,” said Coy, who earned the win Saturday as La Plata (19-4) fended off Atlanta 5-4 for a district title. “But once it was over, it was really nice.”
Coy finished the championship game with eight strikeouts and her slow, sinking changeup was masterful. Opposing hurler and fellow freshman Abbie Farmer was just as solid for Atlanta, as she struck out 10 Bulldogs.
She was able to find her composure as the sun and temperature went down at the La Plata Sports Complex, and also had a nice day at the plate. She had an RBI single in the third inning to get La Plata on the board after Atlanta went up 2-0, and then an RBI double in the fifth. She came around on a hit by junior third baseman Lilly Cox for the Bulldogs' fifth and final run.
Coy kept her composure by trying to forget that she was pitching in a district championship game.
“I didn’t really think about the end result,” Coy said. “(I thought) just keeping our heads down and keep fighting and the end result will most likely be in our favor.”
Atlanta (13-3) took an early lead on RBI hits from Farmer and junior third baseman Madison Peavler in the first and second innings.
La Plata’s lone senior, Jacci Gregory, came to the plate with two on in the third. After striking out in her previous at bat, she had to change things up. Whatever she did worked, as brought two runs in on a double to get La Plata on the board.
“We have a thing where you have to flush it, so they made me flush the toilet before I went up to bat the second time,” Gregory said. “It felt pretty good to get a double.”
La Plata coach Greg Buescher has touted how young his team is all season, waiting for them to blossom. Along with Coy, two other freshmen start for La Plata, as well as four sophomores. Even with a district title now in their possession, he still thinks the Bulldogs’ best softball is ahead of them.
“I don’t think we’ve reached our potential yet,” Buescher said, recalling some of the throwing and fielding miscues La Plata had Saturday. “I think we’re getting closer, but I don’t think we’ve played as well as we can play. But we’re playing awfully well.”
Atlanta and La Plata have forged a competitive rivalry the past few years. Atlanta went 3-1 against La Plata last season, winning a Tri-County Conference and district title. This year it was the Bulldogs who went 3-1 against Atlanta. Atlanta’s one win, a 5-3 effort at La Plata on Oct. 4, granted them another conference title, but La Plata regained the edge Saturday.
Both teams just feel destined to keep competing for prime opportunities. Both teams had to get through semifinal games earlier in the day since weather shuffled things around. La Plata handled Brashear, 11-1, and Atlanta took a close matchup with Schuyler County, 3-2. They just had to meet again.
“It kind of feels that way,” said Atlanta coach Courtney Garnett. “It’s always a conference title or a district title, but they’re a good squad. It was a good day of softball. I felt like we pretty much gave it all we had. Faced Schuyler County for a pretty tough semifinal and made it through that. So I’m really proud of the girls and their effort today.”
Garnett will helm a team next year without their two graduating stars: Haylee Petre and Aleassa Hruska. Hruska was named conference MVP on Monday for the second year in a row. And Petre was last year’s Daily Express Player of the Year after going 17-1 with 165 strikeouts and a .549 ERA. She primarily played first base this season and hit .426 in the regular season.
Garnett said it will be hard not being able to pencil those two into the lineup next year.
“It’s kind of hard not to picture them. They’ve definitely been the battery the last few years for what we’ve built things around. We’re really going to miss them and they’re a big part of our success the last four years. It’s hard to imagine, but they’ll move on and we’ll adapt," she said.
La Plata will host Knox County (16-4-1) for sectionals on Wednesday. The Eagles defeated reigning Class 1 champion Canton 2-1 on Saturday for Knox’s second district softball title in three years.
Buescher said he didn’t know much about the Eagles following his own win, but that he has plenty of friends in the Lewis and Clark Conference and will start making some calls.
Coy, however, is a bit more familiar with them. She is great friends, and distantly related, to Knox junior catcher Riley Strange. Coy played with Strange on her first travel softball team.
But that game will come Wednesday. For Saturday, the team celebrated the win at La Pachanga, since “it’s the only place in town” according to Coy. And they’ll enjoy their current hardware before looking for more.
“The result was outstanding, fantastic. I’m really excited for the girls. They’ve worked really hard and deserve it,” Buescher said. “We beat a really good team. We had a few miscues that we were able to overcome and had some timely hits and made the plays when we needed to.”