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May 6, 2010

PREP SOFTBALL: Bates, Raiders getting divine inspiration for memorable run

GOOD HOPE — At first glance, Good Hope High’s Trenda Bates and former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow might not seem like they have anything in common.

But that’s only until you look down at Bates’ feet.

That’s where Bates, a senior pitcher and infielder on Good Hope’s North-Central Regional-bound softball team, gets a little Tebow-esque inspiration when she’s out on the diamond.

“I got the idea from Tim Tebow,” said Bates, referring to the Bible-verse-bearing piece of tape stuck to one of her softball cleats. “I think he was a really good example.”

And now, so is Bates.

Since the start of the season, Bates has been leading the Raiders in a couple of faith-based traditions that set a positive example for the rest of the team.

One is the constant presence of Bates’ Bible, which travels with the Raiders to every game — home or away — and sits inside the team’s dugout.

The other is the athletic tape that bears a different scripture — one for every game — on one of her cleats. It’s an idea Bates got from Tebow, who famously wrote biblical references on his eye black while at Florida.

Thursday’s verse was I Timothy 4:12, which reminds young people not to use age as an excuse when setting an example to others. In the New International Version it reads:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”

So far this season, Bates and the Raiders have also set an example in softball excellence. Ranked No. 3 in the final Class 3A Alabama Sports Writers Association poll, Good Hope has piled up a 39-6 record while winning the Class 3A, Area 12 championship.

As is the case with everything else, Bates chalks up the team’s success to a little divine assistance.

“We know the Lord has gotten us where we are,” she said. “He’s the reason we’re going to regionals.”

That guidance has led Good Hope to the North-Central Regional in Vestavia Hills, where the Raiders will face Winfield today in the opening round at 11 a.m. at Liberty Park.

With three wins at the tournament, Good Hope will advance to the state tournament for the second time in four seasons — and the second time in the careers of the team’s four seniors: Bates, shortstop Brandi Hudson, first baseman Katie Windsor and outfielder Tisa Green.

The seniors loved their first trip in 2007 so much, they made a point to tell the underclassmen about it all year.

“We’ve been to state before and we want to get back and show the younger girls how great it was,” said Hudson.

Bates agreed.

“Just the whole experience of representing your school, it’s great,” she said. “But we don’t just want to go — we want to win it.”

Winning is something Good Hope’s girls programs have done a lot of this year. The volleyball team reached the state semifinals last fall, and the basketball team made the Northwest Regional final at Wallace State in February.

Now it’s the softball team’s turn. And even without divine inspiration, the squad would have a good shot to advance.

Besides the divine inspiration, the softball team owes much of its success to a tightly knit group of players. The seniors have been playing together since they were in grade school, and over the last two seasons they’ve developed a strong bond with Good Hope’s large crop of underclassmen.

“Last year was our first year with the younger girls, but this year we’ve bonded with them,” said Bates.

Win or lose, Good Hope’s players know this year’s run has been special. In addition to the area title, the Raiders also captured the Cullman County crown in April.

The run has been so memorable, none of the seniors can believe it’s about to be over.

“It’s been special but emotional,” said Green. “After our last game here we all waited on the field because we didn’t want to leave.”

For Windsor, who starred on the Good Hope volleyball team with Hudson last fall, going out with another state-tournament appearance would be the perfect end to a career.

“It’s definitely something I’ll never forget,” she said. “Going to state in volleyball was amazing, and going back in softball would be special.”

Mike Cummings can be reached by email at michaelc@cullmantimes.com or by phone at 734-2131, ext. 258.

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