Following a loss that broke the heart of more than a few supporters, Cass head coach Taylor Weeks could only talk about the heart shown by her team in arguably its best performance of the season relative to opponent.
"I saw this team give more heart today than I have all year," she said. "I told them I was proud of them. We played together."
After six innings of having almost everything go their way, the Colonels saw nearly everything go against them in the seventh inning of a tough-to-swallow, 5-4 defeat to Villa Rica on Monday.
Cass took a 4-3 lead into the final frame of the Region 7-AAAAA home matchup. With three outs to go in pursuit of a third region win, the Colonels saw the first two batters reach after consecutive line-drives deflected off Cass gloves.
"When things like that happen, you just have to forget about it and make the next one," Weeks said.
It could be argued the second liner, which put runners at second and third with nobody out, shouldn't have happened.
The Wildcat hitter, Reagan Gunter had been hit by a ball she bunted earlier in the at bat. The play was ruled a dead ball after the home-plate umpire ruled it hit her in the batter's box, as opposed to outside the box, which would have resulted in an out.
Villa Rica (9-6, 5-4) took advantage with back-to-back sacrifice flies to score the tying and go-ahead runs.
With the top of the order due up in the bottom half of the frame, the Colonels looked to have possibly had leadoff hitter Eryn Lee on base with a bunt single. However, the field umpire called Lee out on a bang-bang call.
Cass (2-13, 2-7) persevered, though, loading the bases with Kelly Young being hit by a pitch, Rachael Lee singling and Haley Owens coaxing a two-out walk. Villa Rica closed out the game with a grounder back to relief pitcher Kali Barbour, who threw home for the force out.
As disappointing as the defeat had to be for the Colonels, it serves as a warning flare, signaling to the rest of the region that Cass has improved significantly.
Confidence has been the biggest hurdle for the Colonels to get over this season. Youth will pose that problem from time to time. Monday's performance showcased what can happen when the team plays up to its potential in the three main areas of the game — offense, defense and pitching.
Cass showed a vastly improved defense with just one hard-luck error.
"It's awesome," Weeks said. "I'm proud of them. I think each player held themselves accountable. If we made an error in the field, we made sure we made the play right after that."
The pitching also looked solid with Rachael Lee going the distance with just three earned runs.
"I thought she threw really well, and it helped her defense was behind her," Weeks said.
And, offensively, the team had only four hits but came through with the timely hitting that had been absent much of the year.
Hailie Owens roped a two-run double to open the scoring in the second; Eryn Lee answered a three-spot by Villa Rica in the fourth with a game-tying single; and Keturah Redding, who was running for catcher Jaden Musacchio after a double, stole third and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth when the throw got away.
Coming back time and again from adversity alone solidified the growth the Colonels have undergone this season. It should have Weeks excited for the future, and it certainly had her proud of her team's effort Monday.
"I saw them have heart today," Weeks said. "They played with heart. It didn't matter what the score was. They were going hard each inning."