LORENA – The members of the Lorena softball team try to make the most of their bus rides to and from games, but shortstop Kaci Donaldson kind of took it to the extreme.
Last year as Lorena was traveling to its fourth-round playoff game, Donaldson pulled a prank that resulted in a brief – and somewhat harrowing — delay in the team’s trip.
“She made a sign that said, ‘Send Help!’ ” senior third baseman Jordan Generals said. “And she put it up against the window, and 10 minutes later we were being pulled over by the cops. (Coach Ashley) Jones was like, ‘Is that cop trying to pull me over?’ ”
Pitcher Rachel Williams recalled that the moment was especially nerve-wracking for her, because she really needed to use the restroom.
“The only thing I was thinking was, ‘I’ve got to go to the bathroom,’ ” Williams said. “So the cop is sitting there questioning us, ‘Is everything OK?’ and I’m running off the bus. It looked a little suspicious.”
As third-ranked Lorena returns to the fourth round of the playoffs on Friday, with a 4A regional semifinal against 10th-ranked Bridge City in Huntsville, it is hoping to avoid any encounters with the police on either the trip there or back. But the Lady Leopards seem to strike the right balance on their postseason journey. They know when it’s time to get serious and when it’s OK to cut loose and celebrate.
And they don’t seem to be bothered by the moment, no matter how stressful it might be.
“It’s the most cliché thing, but it’s just a game. Just have fun,” Generals said. “This has been my best season, because I’ve had that mindset the whole season. Everything is just great, it’s fun and it’s awesome, but it’s not the end of the world.”
It’s a rather mature perspective, and it’s born from the team’s seniors, Generals and centerfielder Ashley Guyton. They’ve been around a while, have seen a thing or two. Lorena coach Steve Dolezel said they help calm the younger players.
“We’ve got really good older ones, they’re really good friends and teammates,” Dolezel said. “They’re all just, ‘Hey, let’s go, let’s go to the next play.’ Nothing is going to drag them down. They stay with it, move on.”
Coming into the season, Dolezel assumed the Lady Leopards could stack up some wins, though the coach wondered how the freshmen would assimilate to the fast-paced varsity game. So far, so good.
Lorena has dropped just three games all year entering its series with Bridge City (28-5-1). The Lady Leopards have won games in all manner of ways, including some of the drama-laced, comeback variety.
One such highlight arrived against longtime rival Robinson during the regular season.
“We were losing 5-0 and it was the fifth inning, I believe,” Williams said. “We had bases loaded, and somebody had just said in the dugout that they knew that Emma (Tindell) was going to hit a home run. Next pitch she blasted it. That was pretty good.”
Lorena came back to win the game, 7-5, completing a season sweep of the Rockettes.
Different heroes have emerged at various times for Lorena, helping keep everyone invested. Lorena’s players said they also benefit from a loyal fan club that travels en masse to the various road games and playoff spots.
But perhaps the team’s most significant asset is that it seems to have conquered the mental challenges of a challenging game.
“You’ve got a split-second where something can happen, and then you’ve got five seconds or 10 seconds before the next pitch happens,” Dolezel said. “That’s a lot of time for the mind, and you want to make sure you occupy your mind with some good thoughts.”
The Lady Leopards keep their minds clear and calm during the games. Then after a win, on the bus ride back, that’s when they power down their brains and go full goofball.
“Bus rides are always the most fun thing,” Guyton said. “We sing and dance more on the way back, after a win, when it’s dark.”
Added Generals: “Of all things, (I’ll most remember) the bus rides. We laugh and we joke and we play music, we mess with each other and play pranks. That’s my favorite part. Just having all these friends around. I can see them in the hallway and make a joke about something that happened on the bus the day before.”
So if you see the Lady Leopards tooling down the highway, shrieking into the night, don’t worry about sending help. They’ve got it under control.