There was doubt about Daleville Softball (6-12) being able to field a team going into the 2022 season. The Broncos were recruiting people to their roster in the hallways at school.
Heading into their first-round sectional game against Southern Wells (5-19), Daleville still felt like the underdogs, even though they beat the Raiders earlier in the season. Senior shortstop and pitcher Paige Petty spent three years with a team that never won a sectional game.
Throughout her entire softball career, Petty had never hit a home run. That all changed in the bottom of the sixth inning, when the game was tied 5-5, although the two-run shot came with a caveat.
“I have a lot of adrenaline right now, especially after hitting that [home run] but, it felt like I tore my hamstring,” Petty said. “I don't know if I did or not, but I went out there and pitched and got three outs almost every time right in a row, it just felt great.”
Petty hit 2-4 with a two-run home run, and came in to pitch for two innings, giving up two runs, three hits and striking out two Raider batters. Her home run was followed by a two RBI double courtesy of sophomore first baseman Cali Pattengale (finished 2-4) to take the lead 7-5.
In the top of the seventh, Southern Wells scored two runs to send the game to extra innings, where the game was ended by a sacrifice fly courtesy of sophomore Synia Walker.
Broncos Softball head coach Jeremy Pattengale has coached travel softball for 13 years. He has won countless tournaments and big games outside of high school softball, but the one thing that eluded him was a sectional win, not just a sectional championship, but a victory in a single sectional game.
He recognized the tough years Daleville softball has gone through before, and even during, the 2022 season, and said those times made this extra inning victory mean that much more.
“Paige has been on some rough teams here over the last couple of years, so it meant a lot to be able to come out get a first round sectional win when we weren’t even supposed to win a game this year,” Pattengale said.
Pattengale said he and Petty have not always gotten along and they’ve butted heads many times throughout the season. After the game, he made a point to pull her aside and tell her how proud he was of her performance.
“Paige has had a rough go of it, and she's got a lot of things that run through her mind every day and that's her first home run right there in her high school career,” Patengayle said. “Me and Paige have had our ups and downs this year trying to get used to each other, but that's never deferred me from pushing you (her).”
During the 2021 season, Petty’s father couldn’t watch her play softball (due to undisclosed personal reasons). In 2022, her father is back in the stands watching her play the game she loves, something Petty said made her first-ever home run mean so much more.
“It meant a lot to me because my dad didn't get to watch me last season, and as soon as I stepped into the batter's box, he took out his phone and started recording me,” Petty said. “It means everything.”
The Broncos will face Tri-Central (2-12-1) in a sectional semi-final matchup May 24 at approximately 6:30 p.m. at Daleville. Pattengale said in order to prepare for their next game, they will send messages to the Broncos to check on their mental stability because many of those on the roster had never played in a sectional game before their victory over Southern Wells.
Pattengale said he often tries to let the Broncos know every mistake is a learning opportunity for them and to approach every game like they’re at 0-0. He believes every player on Daleville gives every play their all and that leads to success and improvement.
“No matter if they're the best girl, [or] the worst girl on the team, all of them have heart and all of them give everything they got,” Pattengale said. “Even if they can't catch it, they run to it, even if they don't field it, they try.”
In game one of the first-round sectional matchups, Cowan (13-8) defeated Liberty Christian (9-14) 9-0 in a contest where junior pitcher Tatum Rickart threw a no-hitter, striking out 16 Lions and walking two. She also hit 2-4 with two RBI.
This was not Rickart’s first no-hitter of the season, and her record now sits at 11-4 with a 2.16 ERA. Cowan Softball head coach Curtis Bynum said Rickart has been able to balance her hitting and pitching to lead the Blackhawks to success.
“She's been a workhorse all year and whether it's in the circle, whether it's her batting, she's led this team and she's putting the team on her shoulders,” Bynum said.
Although Rickart stood out for Cowan, fellow juniors Aryonna Bynum (catcher) and Josie Byrd (centerfielder) each had standout games. Byrd hit 2-3 with a two run home run and Bynum hit 2-4 with three RBI and a double.
Rickart said she knew she had a no-hitter as the game got to the later innings, but she is used to dealing with the pressure. She said she feels the relationship she has with many Blackhawks helps her manage the pressure of performing on the mound and at the plate.
“I feel like I personally put more pressure on myself, I expect myself to succeed more, but I have a great team and like I said, my other four juniors, I lean really heavily on them,” Rickart said. “We all have that pressure on us, so we know we can lean on each other.”
Rickart and Bynum said they have developed a father-daughter relationship during the multiple years they have spent together, as player and coach. Not only Rickart, but Bynum has a close relationship with all five juniors on the roster, who have grown up together.
Rickart said herself and the four juniors have a sister-like bond that leads to greater success on the softball diamond.
“A lot of teams have to talk, and we still have to talk, but we can kind of look at each other and know exactly what each other is thinking,” Rickart said. “It just takes one look and we're like, ‘yeah, we got this.’”
Cowan will face Wes-Del (16-9) in a semi-final matchup at 4:30 p.m. May 24 at Daleville. Previously in the season, the Blackhawks defeated the Warriors 9-4.
Bynum said staying true to themselves and staying in the moment will lead to more wins and an eventual sectional championship.
“[We have to take] One pitch at a time, one strike at a time, one ball at a time, one out at a time, one inning at a time,” Bynum said. “We just got to do what we've been doing all year to keep us successful.”