MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – A year ago, Soddy-Daisy’s Lady Trojans softball team was burdened with a collective heavy heart after the sudden passing of long-time assistant coach Lamar Lasley.
“We had some bad circumstances,” the school’s softball coach, Wes Skiles, recalled.
On May 20, 2013, life threw the softball team a curve.
Soddy-Daisy suffered a 4-1 loss to Smyrna in the sectional and in a postgame huddle Skiles had to break the news to his team that Lasley had died of a heart attack a few hours before the 2012 Class AAA champions took the field against Smyrna for the most important game of the season.
Win, go to state.
Lose, go home.
Lasley’s wife, Dana, told Skiles to take the team to Smyrna and play the game, but both decided it would be best if Skiles didn’t tell the players that their beloved assistant coach had passed away.
Instead, Skiles told the Lady Trojans that Lasley was battling a bad cold.
When the game ended, Skiles delivered the bad news.
Players and coaches from Soddy-Daisy and Smyrna gathered around the pitcher’s circle and a prayer.
Lasley’s death came a few days after former Soddy-Daisy coach, Clifford Kirk, who retired and became the coach at nearby Sale Creek High School, collapsed during a region final due to a heart attack. Kirk recovered from his attack.
Lasley, a coach for more than 35 years at Loftis Middle School and Soddy-Daisy High School – where he was on Kirk’s staff – died at the age of 60.
A year to the day later, Soddy-Daisy is in Murfreesboro preparing for its Class AAA state tournament opener against Collieville on Wednesday at approximately 1 p.m. at the Starplex softball complex.
Even if the Lady Trojans had gotten past Smyrna last season under extremely difficult circumstances, Skiles says now he isn’t sure they would have been up to playing in the state tournament and trying to win a ninth championship.
“If had won last year’s sectional, I probably wouldn’t have gone to state,” Skiles said Friday shortly after Soddy-Daisy rallied to beat Oakland, 5-4, in nine innings to land a berth in this year’s tournament. “I don’t think most of those girls would have gone. It was tough.”
But the Lady Trojans (35-8) are back.
The ordeal thrust on them last year is less of one today.
They arrived in Murfreesboro worry-free, mentally strong, and while they minds right now are on Collierville, some players from last year’s team may have thoughts about their former assistant coach running through their heads.
But now they have a new assistant coach – Jackie Freeland.
“Jackie has done wonders for this program,” said Skiles, who joined Kirk’s staff in 2007. “Her coming on board this year has really helped the girls with her expertise and she’s such a great person. That’s what I like about her more than her playing skills and stuff, the fact she’s a great person.”
Freeland played at Girls Preparatory School and the University of Alabama, and came to the Soddy-Daisy program with superlative credentials. She calls pitches for the Lady Trojans top pitchers – Emily Edwards and Shonna Penney, who have combined for the team’s 35-8 record.
Together with Freeman, the two coaches’ approach is centered around positive attitudes and that was evident in the victory over Oakland.
The Lady Chiefs had taken a 4-2 lead in the top of the seventh on Abby Sargent’s two-run home run.
The Lady Trojans wouldn’t go quietly into the night though.
Brooke Hale reached on an error and with two out Haley Reynolds ripped a double to left-center. Grayson Brown walked.
Shana Ward worked Oakland pitcher Lacie Rinus to a 1-2 count.
Soddy-Daisy had one out and one strike to work with.
Ward’s single to center tied the game.
In the ninth inning, Cameren Swafford, who had singled, scored on Ward’s squeeze bunt and the Lady Trojans walked off with a thrilling 5-4 victory.
“A ballgame is full of swings back and forth,” Skiles said, “and what you have to do when it doesn’t swing your way is to keep a positive attitude. I can’t guarantee you a positive attitude is going to get you positive results, but I will guarantee you if I came over here with a negative attitude we would have gotten negative results.
“Jackie and I both have been in so many games that our faces are what the girls see. These kids come out here and give me a great attitude and they gave me great effort. It was awesome.”
In a way, the ending of last season has affected the Lady Trojans in 2014.
“The way it ended so negatively last year, with the loss of life and having to plan a funeral,” Skiles said, “I’m glad the girls get to experience a state tournament. We keep things in perspective. This is just a game. They learned that last year and I think that’s why they played so loose this year.
“It’s just a game.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)