The smiles and laughter at the Chickasha High School softball end of season banquet Monday night were a stark contrast to the scenes when this team last took the field together.
Among them, one smile was understandably a little bigger. Outfielder Shorty Clift, in her senior year, highlighted the list of honors handed out that evening, taking home the District Most Valuable Player award, team MVP, recognition as one of the team's three seniors and recognition for the highest batting average at an impressive .607. It's a lot to take in for someone who only began playing at this level last year.
"It's amazing," Clift said. "I don't want to leave my team, but it's part of life. You have to leave somewhere and go make another life, and go from there."
The pain of a loss to Tahlequah in the state quarterfinal over a week ago was more than evident on the Lady Chicks' faces when it was all said and done. Clearly the players and coaches felt their season ended too early, and there was still no use covering those feelings Monday night even after a fall that was successful in its own way.
"It's tough to sit and say you're proud of a 28-6 season with this group of girls," head coach Dennis Furr said. "We sets the goal of a state championship and fell short of that. We're still a young team, and we did have a good season."
This is reflected in the long list of district honors. On top of Clift's MVP award, catcher Lynnsie Elam, third baseman Amanda Bradford, and outfielder Tawn Neidy were named to the all-District first team of the year. Shortstop Brighton Gilbert, second baseman Tristin Watkins, and senior infielder Tori Smith made the second team, while Brooklin Burns, Karissa Duke, and senior Madison Snyder received honorable mention. Furr handed out a most improved award to Jac Gray, a team spirit award to Karlye Weber, a hustle award to Elam, and the batting champ award went to Amanda Bradford.
Then there's still the young pitcher, sophomore Kelsi Gore, who took home the district Defensive MVP award and was named the team's home run queen. For Furr, it is a big change from when he first arrived at Chickasha, when he says picking the batting lineup wasn't as difficult as it is now.
"I remember when I would sit down, write down the first three batters, and then think who's next," Furr said. "Now, when I do the lineup, it's like 'Man, I hate to have to start her on the bench' or 'Can't believe I have to bat her in the nine hole.' It's a tough job. We have a lot of great athletes."
A great athlete is what Furr says he saw in Clift when he first approached her about joining the softball team on top of her time with Chickasha basketball.
"For someone who hasn't played softball, to do what she did and achieve what she has shows a lot about her overall athletic ability," Furr said. "Her determination makes a big difference."
The speedy senior, who recorded 60 stolen bases and 47 runs in 34 games this season, said she initially went back and forth on her decision to play.
"I was thinking about it, and I even texted coach Furr one year, but I decided not to go," Clift said. "Then, I decided I've got to get away from basketball for a little bit, so softball was kind of my go to sport to get away. It turned into my main sport and basketball was just a sport to go play."
Now, the sport is taking Clift beyond high school and into the college ranks. While nothing is official yet, she said there is "no doubt" the next level of softball awaits.
"Softball was my way to college, and I feel like I have been playing it my whole life," Clift said. "I'm kind of upset I didn't play it my whole life, so I can get better and better."