Lady Warrior softball second in Class 5A
No soldier was left behind on West Nassau’s quest for a state championship – including a 3-day-old Lady Warrior.
At the beginning of the 2018 season, Coach Randalyn Bryant had the timing all worked out. The state championship game was scheduled for May 19 and she was scheduled to deliver her daughter May 23. Then Florida’s weather did what it frequently does – it rained. Severe weather in the Vero Beach area caused officials with the Florida High School Athletic Association to delay the championship to Sunday – but the rain kept coming.
They then moved the semi-final game to May 22 and the championship game to May 23. That not only meant Bryant could not travel with her team, but the semifinal game was due to start at 8 a.m. May 22, just 13 hours after the start of West Nassau’s graduation ceremony. The Lady Warriors graduated three seniors.
By the time the bus pulled into Vero Beach that Tuesday morning, they had six hours until the game was due to start.
“It was like 2 o’clock in the morning, but my adrenaline started pumping,” senior Kaitlin “Kansas” LaCross said.
Officials pushed the game back to the afternoon, but that decision was made only moments prior to when the team was due to report to the field. They happily returned to their beds and later had lunch before taking the field. The Lady Warriors were up 4-1 over Keystone Heights when wet field conditions caused a weather delay after the fifth inning, but did not dampen the team’s spirits.
“With the delay, we all just had fun, singing songs and dancing and throwing the ball to stay loose,” catcher Bre Hickox said. “We were still calm and on point and ready to play.”
The game was moved to a drier field and the Lady Warriors quickly finished the battle.
“Going into the game, we knew we could do it,” LaCross said. “When we were scoring, our confidence grew even more.”
During that matchup, Mykhala Moore, Hickox, Regan Lee and Hope Epps all hit triples. Courtney Hengerer had two sacrifice hits while Moore had one. Six Lady Warriors were left on base while three of Keystone’s were unable to score.
The Lady Warriors won Tuesday’s game led by assistant coaches Mike Kelly, Rey Regulacion and Sherrie and David Crosby.
“The girls were great,” Kelly said. “They responded to everything we asked them to do and did good. ... They stayed focused the whole time. With everything going on, I think they couldn’t have responded any better.”
Head Coach Randalyn Bryant was virtually at the game via FaceTime from her hospital room. She gave birth to her daughter, Raedyn, May 20 after contractions began the day prior.
“(Team bus driver and paraprofessional) Cheri Arp was a trooper and gave me a play by play,” Bryant said. “I could see it on TV but it was a two-minute delay. It was stressful.”
Hickox said it was great to have Bryant available.
“She’d tell us what we needed to do … it helped calm us down.”
Hardee and Coral Springs Charter faced off early May 23, with the three-time defending state champions easily defeating Hardee 7-1. The Lady Panthers defeated West Nassau 3-1 in 2015 and have since defeated Bayshore and Eustis for the state title. The Lady Warriors were ready for revenge.
West Nassau defeated Coral Springs once since then, during a regular season game in 2017, winning 3-2 in eight innings. When they faced the Lady Panthers during a spring break tournament this year, they fell 8-5.
“I knew it would come to them,” Bryant said. “That’s why we went down on spring break, so we could see them before the championship game. I also knew we could play with them. We were one timely hit away from a ball game.”
The Lady Warriors wanted to win this one badly, even if it was without their head coach. But what they didn’t know was that she was released from the hospital and already headed south.
“When they won Tuesday and the FHSAA made the game time 5:30 on Wednesday, I knew I could make it,” Bryant said. “I only told Mike Kelly I was coming. My parents and husband loaded up the car and took me. I had zero plans of going, but when they let me out of the hospital a day early, I couldn’t not go.”
She continued, “I preached all year, ‘no soldier left behind,’ so I got the newest soldier and took her with me.”
The girls were warming up when Bryant walked up to the field.
“We were so surprised,” LaCross said. “We were stretching and Emily Dixon turned around and she said, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
The teammates ran to their coach in excitement.
“She tricked us, telling us she couldn’t come,” Hickox recalled, adding, “We knew nothing was going to stop her.”
“Our motto through the year’s been ‘no soldier left behind’ and now we had two soldiers there,” LaCross said.
The team was energized and excited as they stepped onto the field with the full tribe intact.
Coral Springs scored four runs in the second inning, but it would be the only runs the Lady Warriors allowed.
“We just had that one bad inning,” LaCross said. “They had a solid hit and then there was an error. There was a good hit and it brought the runs in.”
After two quick up-and-down innings, West Nassau scored on a walk in the fifth inning with the bases loaded. With another solid hit, more runs would have occurred, but the final out came before that could happen.
“We had opportunities and sometimes opportunities don’t go through,” Hickox said. “That’s softball. That’s how it goes.”
The Lady Warriors were unable to score again and left a total of seven runners on base throughout the game. Coral Springs left five on base.
Epps hit a double and a triple while Lee and Skylar Whitty each hit triples.
The 2018 West Nassau softball team included Whitty, Hengerer, Lee, Epps, Moore, Hickox, Emily Dixon, Madison Dixon, Kaitlyn Kansas LaCross, Bailey Studt, Madison Armstrong, Kaleigh Clay, Emma Devevo, Bree Hartman and Thi Stone.
Eight of the 15 Lady Warriors were freshmen, three were sophomores and this year’s roster included only one junior.
“I knew from the start of the season we could compete. I just had to convince them of that,” Bryant said. “When you have eight players that are playing varsity for the first time, they have no idea what to think.”
Many of the players thought 2018 would be more of a rebuilding year. But then the team kept winning, ending the season with a 24-7 record.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything else, except a state championship, but that’s OK,” LaCross said.