By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
GOOD HOPE —
As the weekend inches closer and closer, many high school seniors around the state are most likely watching their clocks anxiously as they prepare for one of the most memorable moments of their lives — graduation.
However, for four Good Hope seniors, they’re hoping to be three hours away when their classmates stroll across the stage.
The Raiders’ softball team will make its second-straight trek to Lagoon Park in Montgomery, where its set to begin play in the Class 3A State Softball Tournament on Friday against White Plains.
And although wins will likely mean missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the Red and White seniors are just fine with that.
“You know, it is our graduation, but we don’t want to be there,” Kayla Tillman said. “We want to win.”
Added Darcie Wilson: “It’s bittersweet knowing we could miss it. But, on the other hand, I’d rather win a state title any day.”
Tillman, Wilson, Cara Goodwin and Savannah Fendley are looking to make one last run in their efforts to solidify themselves as part of one of the most successful classes in school history.
The former three are making their fourth appearance in a state tournament — two in softball and two in basketball — while Fendley, a mid-season transfer last year, is participating in her second overall.
While Goodwin said she was “glad they’d all be remembered,” Tillman took a moment before coming up with just how much her prep career has meant to her.
“It’s been awesome, and we’re all proud to be apart of this class,” she said. “That’s all you want in life is to be successful.”
Coach Wayne Harris said his seniors are right where they belong.
“With the exception of Savannah, I’ve had them all five years I’ve been here,” Harris said. “We’ve put in a lot of hours on this field. You always want your season to end at Lagoon Park. To borrow the cliche, ‘It’s icing on the cake.’ Hopefully, they can go out and do what they’ve done all year and their whole career.”
The trio of Tillman, Wilson and Goodwin go back a ways. In fact, they all three attribute their prep successes to familiarity with one another.
“We’ve been together for so long,” Wilson said. “We just have that chemistry with each other.”
Added Tillman: “It helps that we all get along so well. Ever since we were really little, we’ve played sports together. I know a lot of teams say they are like family, but we really are.”
Despite the fact Fendley has only been with her fellow teammates for a year and a half, the outfielder said she had no trouble feeling right at home.
“It was really easy for me to fit in,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a little sad thinking about this being our last week together, but I’m really glad I get to share it with them as well.”
As the end of an era comes to a close this weekend, Goodwin is confident her team will be prepared when they take the field on Friday.
“We are way more ready this year than last,” she said. “We were really nervous and intimidated last year. This time we are going to go down there and perform. We already know it.”
With the players ready to throwdown in Montgomery, Harris could only reflect on the legacy left behind by his seniors.
“They’ve matured so much from eighth-graders to seniors,” he said. “They want to do good in everything they can. They’re all going to school next year, and they really took a vested interest in helping younger players this season.
“I told them the other day that their legacy isn’t necessarily this year, but 10 or 15 years down the road. And we all know it’s going to be a good one.”
‰ Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.