As the East Hall softball team prepared to make the three-hour trip to Columbus for the state tournament, the entire surrounding community made an effort to show its support.
After a walkthrough of the high school to visit the full student body, the Lady Vikings made a stop by White Sulphur Elementary, where the younger kids greeted the players with cheers and personalized softballs for each athlete. As the bus was about to get onto the highway, firefighters from Hall County Fire Station 7 came out to wave goodbye and wish the team good luck.
It’s the type of sendoff that the Lady Vikings have been waiting to experience for the last four years.
“We’re all super excited to make history together as a team,” senior Gracie Smith said. “It’s something we’ve never gotten to experience before, so we’re all really looking forward to it. … We’ve been looking forward to it since our freshman year. We’ve all wanted this since Day 1.”
Smith is one of five seniors who has been a part of four consecutive East Hall region championship teams. Despite earning No. 1 seeds for state playoffs every season since they arrived at the school, these fourth-year players are making their first ever trip to Columbus — finally getting a shot at an elusive state title.
Considering the difficult playoff exits every upperclassman on the team has dealt with in past years, East Hall coach Anuel Burce said his team is among the hungriest for success in all of Class 3A coming into the final stretch of the postseason.
“I think it means a great bit to them,” he said. “They’ve taken some tough losses when they’ve had chances to get here before and felt that they should. Words really don’t explain how happy they are to be able to go out and experience this when they really wanted to be here.”
First up on Thursday at 6 p.m. is a matchup against a Jefferson team that the Lady Vikings beat 2-1 in September.
The Lady Dragons thrive on their speed, using “small ball” to put pressure on opposing defenses and capitalizing on all fielding errors, so consistent defense will be key to winning and advancing. Burce and Smith both said the team’s victory against Jefferson earlier in the season will be a confidence boost for this game, but they also emphasized the importance of not getting overconfident in crucial moments.
“We’ve just got to know that even though we have beaten them before, it doesn’t mean we’ll beat them again,” Smith said. “We’ve got to go in with the mentality that we want the game. We have to want it to win it.”
The team has also gone through talks and preparations for what to expect at the event as a whole, beyond just the opening game. Focus and consistent effort “through the last out” have been common themes as the Lady Vikings get ready for the biggest weekend of East Hall softball history.
But more important than that, according to Burce, is simply staying in the moment and having fun. With the season nearing its end and the East Hall’s ultimate goal squarely in sight, Burce has made sure that throughout the process, his team has been having fun and staying loose.
“We’re here to enjoy the time and enjoy the moment,” he said. “Just accept it for what it is, have fun in the moment and seize it.”