By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
MONTGOMERY — Anyone who believes athletes are only as good as their last game obviously knows nothing about Cara Goodwin, Kayla Tillman and Darcie Wilson.
Steady final performances — Goodwin fanned nine last batters, Tillman roped two last hits and Wilson threw out one last runner — or not, there's no way all three Good Hope seniors could ever be remembered solely for a 4-1 loss to Winfield in the consolation bracket of the 2013 Class 3A State Softball Tournament.
Rather, the talented trio should forever go down in Raider lore as the grittiest of competitors, the best of friends and — most importantly — as proven winners.
Throughout their illustrious prep careers, Goodwin, Tillman and Wilson made it habit to end their seasons on the state's biggest stage. The three had their hands in the Good Hope girls basketball team's back-to-back trips to Birmingham in 2010 and '11, as well as the school's consecutive state softball appearances in Montgomery the past two seasons.
And while these girls donned the Red and White, there were never any worries about limping into the playoffs.
That was never more evident than the 2011-12 winter and spring seasons, when Goodwin, Tillman and Wilson were key cogs in the greatest year in the history of Good Hope girls athletics. Led by Tillman and All-State point guard Nina Mills, the basketball squad racked up a school-record 33 wins, only for the softball team — paced by pitcher and catcher battery Goodwin and Wilson —to pile on a school-record 43 victories.
While Goodwin, Tillman and Wilson have been at Good Hope their entire prep careers, fellow senior Savannah Fendley closed out hers as a Raider after transferring in the middle of her junior year. Despite the late start, Fendley was immediately welcomed with open arms, eventually fitting in perfectly with a group of goofy girls she now considers her teammates and sisters.
“I guess when we're not on the field, we act kind of silly,” Tillman said explaining the chemistry that's been just as crucial to Good Hope's girls over the years as their athleticism. “But when we get out there, even though sometimes we don't, we know we're supposed to care of business.
“And we have each other's backs. Like I know Cara had those home runs,” she added, referring to Winfield's three solo shots in Saturday's loss. “I was like, 'Cara, you're still the best. I got you. You're good.'”
Good wouldn't even begin to describe Goodwin's high school softball career. Brilliant would be more like it.
The Raiders' reliable ace was an All-State fixture, a strikeout queen — she notched more than 1,000 in her last two campaigns — and a bit of a perfectionist, setting the state record (seven) for perfectos in a season earlier in the year.
Goodwin became Good Hope's first All-American in 2012 and could very easily add first two-time All-American when the National Fastpitch Coaches Association doles out its annual awards later this summer.
“It doesn't matter who she's playing, who she's throwing against, she wants the ball,” Red and White coach Wayne Harris said of Goodwin. “She's going to be one of those players where everybody is relieved she's gone except for us. She's done so much, not just for softball, but for her school, getting her name out there and getting Good Hope's name out there, some things that are just irreplaceable, that you can't put a value on.”
A teary-eyed Wilson was understandably proud of the Raiders' resume throughout her playing days, as was Goodwin, who joked she'll one day drive her kids crazy telling them about her softball team's lofty accomplishments.
In the best old-lady accent she could channel, a sly-smiling Goodwin said, “I'm going to be like, 'When I was in high school, we went to Montgomery twice.'”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.