BELLVILLE — The Clear Fork High School softball team has accomplished much this season. Twenty-eight wins versus only four losses and a state tournament appearance for the first time since 1980 are just a couple of the Colts’ accomplishments.
Much of the Colts’ success is because of their seniors, which total five in all. This group has an 88-23 career varsity record and has won at least a share of the Ohio Cardinal Conference title in three of the last four years.
Pitcher/shortstop Rachel Wilson may be the best known of the group, but each brings something to the team and Clear Fork wouldn’t be where it is without each of them. Kaylynn Cockrell, Jessica Perkins, Becca Mottayaw and Lauren Liberti each bring their own unique flare to the team, which plays Tallmadge this afternoon in the Division II state Semifinals at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
“It feels good to get what we have deserved,” Cockrell said. “We’ve always been successful, but we’ve finally overcame the tough teams. It feels really good. I’m proud of this team and of Clear Fork.”
Coming off an 18-9 mark last season, the Colts entered the 2009 campaign with nearly everyone back. That included this groups of seniors.
“The difference between last year and this year is only one player, but this year our team bonded a lot quicker than every other year,” said Cockrell. “I’m sure it helped that we played together last year and only had one senior. We all knew each other and knew how each other played. We are more like a family this year than any other year.
“We, the seniors, definitely try to be leaders, but the underclassmen step up and help. It is not like we have designated leaders, but the seniors have put their input in more than any other year. This is the largest group of seniors we’ve had since we’ve been in school.”
Leadership from all of the players has been what has helped this team reach the state tournament. The seniors did things the right way, which helped Clear Fork get off on the right foot.
“Our leadership this year is what has helped move the team forward,” said Wilson. “We had a great leader last year in Ashley Dorner, but with five seniors this year, it seems easier. I don’t know; it is just amazing.”
“It is going to be crazy next year when we are all gone,” Liberti said. “We all act as seniors and step up to do our part. It really doesn’t matter what grade you are in as long as you do your part. We all work together.”
Because of their team first mentality, the Colts have proven they can compete with the best. They have also managed to get along, and this group actually enjoys being around each other
“These have been the best four years of my life,” said Wilson. “We have so much fun every time we step onto the field. Even in practice, we like being around each other.”
“This has been a lot of fun because we are all close friends,” Liberti said. “It has been like playing with your best friend.”
Mottayaw added, “This has been so much fun. Our team is so different, but everyone gets along. We feel like a family every day, even in practice.”
One big reason is because each and every player has accepted their role on the team. While they may not like what coach Jeff Gottfried asks them to do, they do it without hesitation.
“We all realized we all have our own spots,” said Liberti. “For me, playing first is where I need to be. Now that we all know that and we win that way, it is not a big deal. Everyone works together and helps each other out.”
This team has also come a long way since Day 1.
“As a team, we’ve really matured with each other and we all want the same thing,” Perkins said. “We are all on the same page.”
“Only losing one senior really helped a lot,” said Liberti. “We switched up positions — the only infielder that stayed the same consistently was our second baseman — we have a new catcher, a new third baseman, a new shortstop and I am more so at first. It has changed more than people think, but we have confidence in each other. It doesn’t matter where anyone plays.”
Truth be told, the Colts are not much different than any other tournament team. Sure they have quality players at every position, but so did at least 23 other teams in the state. It is all because of one thing that they are here today.
“Trust,” said Liberti. “Our main word of the game for our regional semifinal and regional final was trust. We’ve all learned to do that with each other. It is all about trusting in yourself and trusting in each other. It makes a difference to know we can.”
Mottayaw said, “We believe we are going to win, no matter what the situation is.”
“This year has been the best year we’ve ever had,” added Perkins. “We, as seniors, decided to go out and make it memorable. We’ve been nothing but focused and determined. We have a lot of trust in each other. ... Trust has been the biggest thing. Without it, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Tallmadge poses many threats to the Colts. Their tradition — seven state titles in 14 appearances — speaks volumes, but it doesn’t hinder the Colts’ enthusiasm.
“We know the teams are going to get tougher and tougher every game, but we made it here too, so we are just as good as them,” Cockrell said. “Every inning, it is 0-0. Even if we are up or we are down, we treat it that way. No one is better than us in our minds.”
“We don’t really go into any game like it is any different from the one before,” said Liberti. “Like Kaylynn said, in our minds, it is the same as any other game. The preparation is just a little different.”
It has been 29 years since a Clear Fork team has advanced to the state softball tournament, and this Colt edition is hoping to learn from its past.
“We always say the first one to mess up (is the key),” Liberti said. “Hopefully it is not us, but if it is, we have confidence in each other. We know we will pick each other up and go from there.”
“We learn from our mistakes,” said Mottayaw. “One we make a mistake, we don’t forget it. We fix it so it doesn’t happen again.”
And with a strong senior core leading the way, the Colts are ready for whatever comes their way.
“We can’t leave anything out there,” Mottayaw said. “We have to go all out — diving for every ball, hit like it’s our last at-bat and enjoy every moment. ... It would be great if we win because we will be graduating (tonight) too. We would be celebrating all night long.”
“This is the biggest day of my life. It is going to be awesome,” added Perkins.
Game time is set for 3 p.m.