By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Jim McElhatton)
The highlight of the season for the resurgent T.C. Williams girls’ softball program came early this month against powerhouse West Potomac, which has crushed the Titans by 20 runs or more, game after game, season after season.
The contest ended in yet another loss, but the score — 6-3 — reflected an entirely different, competitive style of Titans softball.
With a 5-9 record and only a few games left, the Titans weren’t contending for any championships last week. But as T.C. competes for team and individual titles in other sports like soccer, track and field and crew, something remarkable has been happening on the softball field.
For the first time anyone can remember, the Titans aren’t in last place.
“The athletic department doesn’t even know how long it’s been, but it’s been at least 10 years,” said the team’s coach Jen Ushe.
Players say the record is a hard-earned sign of good things to come and a message to district opponents that T.C. isn’t a pushover anymore.
“I think we’re happy to be a part of helping change the foundation of the program,” said MeKayla Robinson, a power-hitting junior who plays third base and knows more than most about the tough tradition of losing. Her mother, Lakeya, played on T.C.’s softball team in the mid-1990s.
“And I’ve never seen five wins in one season,” Lakeya said as the Titans gathered in the cafeteria after a rainout last week. “We’ve always been in transition.”
Ushe said the losing has been hard, especially on the handful of seniors preparing for graduation. They are departing just as they’re witnessing signs of the program turning around.
“But the girls who have gone through it have stuck with it,” Ushe said. “A lot of them have played rec league and they’ve move up together. And if they like each other and they like the game, they’re going to play well.”
They’ve had help along with way from rec and travel team coaches, as well as a strong junior varsity program, which has established its own winning ways lately.
“This is the first year where all of the girls on varsity have played before,” Ushe said. “Some years, we’ve had players who have never picked up a glove before. That was a big challenge.”
Ushe, who played softball at the University of Rochester, took the team this season to play in New York against a squad that for years was coached by her father. Long road trips and intense practices build the sort of camaraderie and memories that will last long after graduation, she said.
“They’re not going to remember striking out,” Ushe said. “They’ll remember those times.”
They’ll also remember sticking with the program when wins were all but impossible to come by. Senior Gabbie Richardson said the five wins this season add up to more victories than in the previous three seasons she spent on the varsity squad — combined.
“It’s definitely been different this year,” she said after a late-season loss to West Springfield. “We’ve got a great set of girls coming up … It’s just disappointing I’m leaving now, but I have a lot of confidence in the next few years coming up that they will continue to grow and get better and better.”
Savannah Melakou, a senior outfielder, said other teams might not have noticed, but T.C. played with a lot more confidence this year.
That confidence was tested earlier this month when the Titans jumped out 7-0 against Annandale only to see the lead disappear. But the Titans scored twice more and then took the lead for good on a late homer by Robinson and a bases-loaded hit from sophomore Asha Zane.
Still, it’s that loss to West Potomac that stands out, said senior Charlotte Taylor.
“They ran over us every year,” she said. “And for us to keep up with them and keep it that close, that was unbelievable for us.”