When the Lee-Davis softball team won the 2011 Group AAA State Championship with a roster loaded with underclassmen, there was every expectation that a second state title in 2012 was attainable. Led by 2011 Gatorade State Player of the Year Kelly Heinz, the Confederates were the favorites to return to the pinnacle of their sport.
Then it happened.
And then-freshman Lauren McIntyre heard the news, in a most unusual way.
“I’d never met Kelly and we were at a blood drive for DECA and she said, ‘Hey, I’m Kelly,’ and I’m like… ‘Hi!’” McIntyre recalled. “She said, ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard but I have to get elbow surgery, so I’m not going to pitch this season.’”
The news sent McIntyre into a state of shock. But enter Lee-Davis catcher Haleigh Cottrell, whose left thumb bears the scars of a thousand Heinz screwballs. She was confident about 2012 after catching for McIntyre at Stonewall Jackson Middle School.
“I thought she was pretty good for a sixth grader,” Cottrell noted, laughing. “We never lost a game that season. As soon as the news broke about Kelly, I knew who was going to pitch. Lauren’s gonna start.”
For McIntyre’s commanding performance on the mound as a freshman and Cottrell’s tremendous performance as the steady force of a battery that took the Confederates to the brink of another state title run, the Herald-Progress salutes Lauren and Haleigh in our “2012 Standouts” series.
McIntyre is very quick to give credit to past experience and one certain coach for helping calm her nerves and guide her through the season.
“I’d been playing 18U softball for four or five years,” McIntyre said, discussing her time on travel teams such as the Richmond Speed and Richmond Storm, who play in competitive tournaments sometimes up to nine months a year. “People were saying it’s nothing different, you’ll be fine.”
Lee-Davis head coach Jackie Davis was there with reassurance as well.
“Coach [Davis] was really supportive. She’s like, ‘It’s gonna be fine, we’re going to do fine,’” McIntyre said.
They were more than just fine. In a photo finish, Lee-Davis repeated as Capital District regular season champions on a seventh-inning comeback win over Atlee. The team also went 11-1 in district play and 19-5 for the season, which ended with a loss in the Central Region semifinal to eventual state champion Cosby. Most innings of every game were led by the battery of McIntyre and Cottrell.
The start of the season, though, brought more adversity. Coach Davis’ father passed away just before opening day and some early games were postponed, meaning Lee-Davis’ first opponent ended up being on the road at Patrick Henry, the only team to defeat the Confederates in their 2011 championship season.
“It was a good ‘settle into’ game because we just started game situations, so it was better to start off against a better team,” McIntyre reflected.
Cottrell took that game experience and parlayed it into wisdom and direction for her once and, suddenly, new battery mate.
“That was a terrible game to go into [first]; if that were me on the mound, that would’ve put a terrible picture in my head for the rest of the year,” Cottrell said. “But I knew every game wasn’t going to be like that. And we held them scoreless until the fifth inning, that’s impressive for a freshman to do that not knowing anything about them. And I know now that you can’t hit every spot with every pitch. I used to get upset and say to her ‘This has got to stop,’ but I’m better about that kind of stuff.”
“Before every game I thought this could be the game I do completely awful,” McIntyre remembered. “I tried to go in with nothing on my mind while Coach [Davis] built my confidence, because I didn’t have much, even in games against teams with lesser records. But in the end, it went well.”
Their communication, and confidence, only improved, setting the stage for the electric win over Atlee to win the Capital. A district semifinal win over Glen Allen set up a rematch with the Raiders for the tournament title, and Cottrell admits fault in preparing for that game, won by Atlee.
“We crushed Glen Allen just days after barely beating them, so, I think that may have given us a big head. Atlee was underestimated this past year and they’re going to be a threat this year, for sure. We are underdogs now because we have only two seniors this season; our team is young.”
Both Cottrell and McIntyre are ready for February and the beginning of practice. McIntyre currently plays for the varsity basketball team, hoping every time she crashes onto the hardwood that she’s not injured. Cottrell, highly complimentary of Coach Davis in her comments, thinks of what may have been, but quickly focuses on what’s to come.
“I feel like had we beaten Cosby, we would have won states last year because there was no outside competition at the state level,” she said. “This year, I’m trying to have fun, supporting my teammates while making sure [McIntyre] is okay on the mound, because she’s gonna be.”
McIntyre laughs as Cottrell points in her direction while speaking words like an older, wiser sister. Cottrell will not pursue softball in college. She has been accepted to East Carolina University, but her first choice is James Madison. She hopes to hear from the Dukes in January and wants to be a nurse practitioner, working with children in oncology, maybe at a children’s hospital.
“It’s going to definitely be a team effort this year, not just one bat,” McIntyre added. “I think we can do it. I have confidence in my team. I think you should have confidence in whoever is playing.”
Her thoughts more reflect the outside perception of the 2012 team supposedly struggling without a player the caliber of Kelly Heinz (who returned late in the season on offense) than in reality, as a total team effort led to the Confederates knocking on the door once again.
With three seasons still to come on the mound, McIntyre, too, is already thinking about college.
“I want to play softball in college, and I’ve been thinking about my career. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
If McIntyre ends up educating the next generation as a career, by extension, so will Cottrell, whose constant presence, confidence, and direction helped bring a state title to Mechanicsville, a freshman pitcher to maturity at warp speed, and now will lead the 2013 Lee-Davis team with deservedly high aspirations. With these two young ladies as the heart and soul of their team, expect more winning in Mechanicsville, and, if Cottrell has anything to do with it, a lot of fun.