Close wins can also show that a team knows how to finish and get the victory.
Hillgrove was very good at getting those close wins.
The Lady Hawks, who went 29-11 on the season, were 9-5 in one-run games. One of the biggest of those one-run victories was Hillgrove’s 5-4 win over Harrison in Game 3 of their Region 4AAAAA championship series, which gave the Lady Hawks their second region title in program history.
In close games and blowouts alike, Hillgrove always remained competitive, which ultimately led it to its first state finals appearance and a third-place state finish in Class AAAAA. It also led to coach Jason Campbell being named the 2011 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Softball Coach of the Year.
“It was a surprise,” Campbell said of the honor. “You have (Kennesaw Mountain coach) Lisa Chapman, (North Cobb coach) Jo Beth Weaver, (Allatoona coach) Troy Pirkle — they are the ones who made it down to Columbus from Cobb County. Then, there’s Scott Kelly over at Lassiter and Chris Turco at Pope, and they all had good seasons to be proud of.
“I feel like it’s a great honor. Those are some good coaches in the county that have been in the county a lot longer than I have, and I feel honored to be coach of the year.”
Campbell directed a team that refused to lose. No matter how big the deficit was they faced, the Lady Hawks, more often than not, either found a way to win or at least made it close.
“If you look back over the last half of our season, we didn’t lose a game by more than a run, and we won a lot more than we lost by only a run,” Campbell said. “We were down in a lot of those games by two, three or four runs. I’ve never seen a team that would continue to persevere the way they did.
“In the big games, you always ask your players that you count on to step up in the big situations, and our girls did that. We had some key players that had great games in those big situations in those big games. That’s something that I will always remember and pass on to teams in the future.”
Those big comebacks included a 9-8 win over Newnan in the state playoffs, when Hillgrove trailed 8-0 in the fourth.
The Lady Hawks also rallied to beat Mill Creek 5-4 after trailing 4-1 in their first meeting in Columbus. They also trailed Mill Creek 6-1 in the losers’ bracket final before falling 9-8 in eight innings.
“The region championship really stands out, too,” Campbell said. “We ended up winning that first game 2-1. Then, Game 2 was another close one that went into extra innings, and we lost by one.
“I knew we had a chance when we had to go back for Day 2. It was (Harrison’s) pitcher against our pitcher, their hitters against our hitters, and it was again a close game, and we won 5-4. I don’t think any one team prevailed over the other. I think it was the circumstances leaned our way a little bit, and we walked away with it.
“We were fortunate. Harrison was a good team. I know it gave us a lot of memories that we’ll keep forever. You can just look back at all of the games we were down. It wasn’t just one person. It was the whole team effort. We counted on key players to step up, and even some of our bench players came up huge down the stretch. It was a fun year.”
Staying injury-free was also important to Hillgrove’s successful season. In 2008, the Lady Hawks lost one of their top pitchers, and in 2009, a key player went down. In 2010, it was another important pitcher who suffered an injury.
“Those were all key positions for us, Campbell said. “This year, we didn’t have any injuries. We had 16 players, and all 16 stayed healthy, for the most part, throughout the year. I can’t say enough about our team unity too. The girls liked each other. They played well with each other. They enjoyed being at the field.”