The players began filing into the Westgate Softball Complex with bags strapped over their shoulders containing their softball essentials.
They wore uniforms of their respective high school teams for a final time in competition — getting a chance to do so thanks to Rhonda Kirk, the director of the facility who organized the Dothan Diamond Classic Senior Sendoff event on Thursday afternoon.
Poster-sized portraits of the competitors lined the chain-linked fences as players and spectators made their way to the fields. Fans gathered around the backstop of the softball diamond, sitting in folding chairs, on the bleachers or simply choosing to stand.
The concession stands were open and doing a brisk business with cheese fries and ice-cold drinks being popular choices. The weather was smothering hot and the gnats were out in full force, but nobody really seemed to be bothered.
After all, high school softball was about to be played again in the Wiregrass for the first time since the season was prematurely shut down due to the wicked coronavirus. Many fans wore T-shirts or caps showing support of their high school.
The doubleheader brought together selected senior players from teams that had been chosen to play this spring in the Dothan Diamond Classic, a 16-team tournament that was wiped off the slate due to COVID-19.
But first up was a Home Run Derby organized by former Dothan High and Auburn University standout Kasey Cooper, who was recently recognized by ESPN as the all-time best third baseman in college softball history as voted on by fans.
Five players took their rips in the contest — Liz Rodebaugh from Dale County, Darian Bell from Ashford, Chloe Nance from Geneva and Dothan High’s Jaala Torrence and KJ Braswell.
The contest was set up for each player to get 10 outs, which was any ball hit that didn’t clear the outfield fence.
Torrence and Bell were the top hitters in the opening round — Torrence with 10 home runs and Bell with five — to set up a two-player battle for the derby title.
Torrence has signed a scholarship to play for the University of Alabama, while Bell will be playing on the next level at Wallace College.
In the championship round, Torrence went first and ripped 16 over the fence. Bell gave it a good effort in hitting eight out.
Torrence, known more for her power pitching than her hitting, showed how multi-talented she really is.
“I love striking people out, but I also love letting the ball fly,” Torrence quipped.
Winning the derby was nice, but just having a chance to suit up in her high school uniform again meant so much more to Torrence.
“It means a lot to us just because we didn’t get the season that we wanted, so just to be able to come out here and play in front of our community means so much and we’re so thankful to Rhonda and everyone who put this together,” Torrence said.
Before the scheduled doubleheader, each player on the roster was introduced and invited to walk out onto the field with family members. In another nice gesture, Erica Coleman Martin threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Her daughter, Addyson Martin, was a Geneva softball player who was killed in an automobile accident in December. Her jersey No. 11 was painted in the outfield grass.
With a big crowd in attendance, the opening game began with Ashford’s Claire Aplin throwing a called strike on the outside corner.
But this wasn’t really about balls, or strikes, or hits, or runs, or plays in the field.
This was about giving these seniors a final chance to shine on the high school level after a disrupted season.