The softball season looks vastly different than Harrison or Sierra high schools expected for 2020.
Low numbers on both sides made the Harrison School District 2 teams set aside their decades-long rivalry to join forces and operate as a single entity.
But in their season opener against Coronado on Aug. 25, the Panthers-Stallions unit didn’t mesh as they hoped.
“The first game, we were in our heads because we had never played together as a team before,” said junior Mikayla Toney. “We’ve gotten a little better at keeping our heads clear and knowing we can reset and make things better.”
Coach Kathia Molina said she realized players looked discouraged following a pitching change made by the Cougars.
Coronado started the contest with Addie Pakenham, a righty with a powerful pitch, who struck out three batters, allowed no runs and allowed just one hit in three innings. The Cougars then switched to Elexys Trujillo, a freshman with a less formidable arm.
“I wanted that to fuel their games,” Molina said of the pitching change. “They need to know what to take in and let it fuel them versus what not to take and keep it moving. I wanted to build resilience and perseverance in the game. I saw some of the girls take what [Coronado’s] coach was doing — which was fair — and it shut them down.”
Though the paradigm shift didn’t occur against the Cougars, the girls displayed a renewed mindset during their fourth game in five days when they took on the Mitchell Marauders on Aug. 29 — and won, 12-10.
The win showcased how the combined team of Panthers and Stallions players has grown as teammates, notably in the fifth inning.
The Marauders took a 4-3 lead against Harrison-Sierra after the group built a 3-1 advantage in the third.
After the Panthers-Stallions notched five runs and made it 8-4 with a single out in the fifth, the Marauders called time out to regain their composure.
During the stoppage, Toney glanced at her teammates, cracked a smile and said, “Look at us! We’re people making a difference!”
Toney’s comment came in jest, but plenty of truth came from her statement about her team’s comeback.
“I wanted to keep the energy up for everyone,” she said. “I wanted to highlight that we’re doing something different than the first game we played against Coronado. I didn’t want us to get in our heads at all and wanted to keep us energized.”
Following the contest with the Marauders, Molina commended her athletes for their progress, and said they appeared to have more fun at the game.
“We only had a couple of practices as a joint team before we played games,” Molina said. “We realized how important it is for them to build chemistry with each other. The chemistry, when it’s not instantaneous, needs to be intentional. They figured out what works for one another and we took that time in practice to help out and it showed [against Mitchell.]”
As the shortened season wanes, players continue to display their growth on the diamond. The Panthers-Stallions staved off a comeback from Canon City on Sept. 15 and won 9-8, the team’s first home win of the year.
“A lot of their shift in mind set has been working with the culture of the team,” Molina said. “We wanted to embed teamwork as well as us deciding what that looks like and what it looks like on the diamond. We saw them bring that together [in our win].”