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OWENSBORO - Ray Woodyard looked tired Saturday but, like every Anderson County fan, he did not want the Lady Bearcats' run through the state softball tournament to end when it did.
Members of the Anderson fan contingent shared lawn chairs, sunscreen - thank you, Julie Black - and snapped pictures for each other at the Jack Fisher Softball Complex on the west side of Owensboro. They sat through strong winds that whipped up the dust and caused occasional stoppages in play.
Like Woodyard, most Anderson fans looked tired.
And proud. Very proud of the Anderson County softball team and its run through the state tournament.
That Anderson had survived a rugged schedule was a feat in itself. That the Lady Cats had won a region so strong that Anderson's main rivals, Shelby County and Oldham County, were likely stronger teams than at least half the field in Owensboro last week, made the feat even more impressive.
But about an hour after the Lady Bearcats had scored a dominating win over George Rogers Clark in the first round, I ran into Anderson assistant coach Chris Glass milling about the overflow crowd at the complex. "This was the first win for the softball or baseball teams," he said, referring to Anderson state tournament history.
But a check of the records showed that no Anderson team, not baseball, not basketball, not anything, had won a state tournament game since 1971. Part of that, of course, is the luck of the draw, but part of it had to be attributed to just how good the Lady Bearcats had become in 2008.
To paraphrase Shoeless Joe speaking to Moonlight Graham, "Kids, you were good."
Since the softball tournament is double-elimination, it is difficult for those of us familiar with the one-and-done format to get a clear picture of just how far the Lady Bearcats went last week. But if the Lady Bearcats had somehow held on to beat Ryle, they would have been one of state's final four.
But Woodyard saw it in a different light. Proud of the team, the Anderson County High School principal is even more proud of the individuals involved. He has constantly taken compliments on the team's character and behavior off the field.
"That is very important," Woodyard said just moments after Ryle had ended Anderson's run. "They are student-athletes. We want them to be students first. Brian and Chris have very high standards for the team academically."
On the field, it's not likely that any of the Lady Bearcats will be playing in the College World Series on ESPN. Sophomore pitcher Courtney Turpin has the opportunity to achieve greatness by the time she graduates in two years, but for the most part, this Anderson County team had a lot of good players who understood that the whole is greater than the sum of individual parts.
And that is what endeared the Lady Bearcats to our hearts.
As the tournament kept moving on, it was becoming apparent that Anderson was becoming a darling of the state softball crowd Saturday. Already armed with one of the largest contingents in Owensboro despite the three-hour drive, Anderson began picking up fans along the way. First it was Scott County, many of whom know the Lady Cats from summer league play.
Owensboro Catholic's fans jumped on the bandwagon Saturday. Then it was a hodgepodge of fans just looking for someone to cheer on.
More often than not, that team was an Anderson club that was giving all it could, then reaching down to find some more. Part of it was Anderson's underdog status, but we'd like to think that part of it was an appreciation for how Anderson carried itself on and off the field.
The Lady Bearcats played hard, did not bark at the umpires when a call didn't go their way and genuinely thanked their large fan base.
"They are a class act," Woodyard said.
Indeed the Lady Bearcats are.
The season ended about two or three games too soon, but the Lady Bearcats did themselves, their school and their community proud.