Parkway’s Danielle Cruickshank was split between tears of relief, tears of joy and tears of knowing this was her last hurrah on her home softball field. Senior pitcher Cheyenne Rogers just giggled her way around the infield accepting hugs from fellow senior Alexis Ayres, along with any additional givers, after the Lady Panthers escaped Byrd with a dramatic 8-7 win.
The victory, in front of a standing room only crowd, allowed Parkway to claim their first outright District 1-5A softball title since moving up to the LHSAA’s highest classification.
It was also the Lady Panthers’ first title since 2007, when they shared the District 1-4A crown with Haughton and Captain Shreve. Parkway coach Neil May won his first title as the Lady Gators coach in ’07 and found Tuesday’s title tilt just as enjoyable.
“Those girls back then were special kids and these girls are just as special. I’m just excited for them,” May said. “It was very emotional. It was back and forth and we made some uncharacteristic errors that we haven’t been making. But this group of kids – I could see it in their eyes. I knew they were going to do whatever it took to win the game. That’s what they’ve done all year.”
The three seniors set the stage for the future of Parkway softball.
“In the last inning, we pushed ourselves hard, we overcame, and did what we needed to do to win this championship,” Cruickshank said. “It was an emotional night, because it was Senior Night and I’m going to miss the heck out of these girls. It was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I got to be a part of Parkway softball.”
Parkway (19-8, 11-1) enjoyed a 6-4 lead in the top of the seventh when Byrd’s Tara Schuler led off with a double and Shelby Spruiell followed with a single. Tia Timerding reached on an error scoring both runs. Autumn Poole’s single to right plated Timerding with the go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the frame, walks to Rogers and Cruickshank, along with a single by Alexis Rayburn, loaded the bases with no outs. A Byrd error plated the tying run, sending sophomore Kelsey Gallman to the plate with the bases jammed. Gallman fell behind 0-2 to Byrd pitcher Sarah Long before drawing a walk to force in the winning run.
“I felt like they had some unlucky hits with the wind pulling the ball back in,” Byrd coach Emerald Doria said. “We also made some errors in key situations that they scored on. But overall, I thought this was one of our best games offensively and defensively together.”
Byrd (16-9, 8-4) had a couple of tough days, losing to Haughton (17-9, 10-2) on Monday, to fall to third in District 1-5A. Had they won Tuesday’s tilt, Haughton and Parkway would have shared the league title.
“The goal of this group was to win it outright, and I don’t think they would have been satisfied with anything less,” May said. “We’re really excited that we won it outright. Parkway has won a lot of district titles over the year but this was the first one in 5A. This is my first outright and my second ever.”