By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
WILKES-BARRE -- For one last time, Warrior Run's seniors hugged along with their teammates in left field after coach Garth Watson's final post-game talk.
Some were crying, visibly upset after losing a heartbreaker to Holy Redeemer in 8 innings at Wilkes University to end their high school careers.
Some didn't seem too shaken up, perhaps relishing the moment of being back in states. Or maybe they were simply holding the emotions inside.
Warrior Run ace pitcher Tay Parker put her arm around a teammate and as they headed towards the dugout together, a small smile flashed across the Defenders all-time strikeout leader's face amidst the loud cheers from the team's fans.
It was a tough loss in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs, but the seniors who played their last game Monday will someday realize what they accomplished was nothing short of remarkable.
For the past four seasons, the six seniors that start for the Defenders (Parker, Jackie Clemens, Devin Nicholas, Gabby Shrawder, Courtney Stahl and Katy Swartz) helped transform Warrior Run from an average team to a perennial powerhouse.
From 2000 to 2009, the Defenders had just one District 4 berth, finishing second and losing in the first round of the 2001 state tournament.
Since this group of seniors -- many of whom have been playing together since they were Little Leaguers -- were freshmen, the Defenders only got better.
Last year the Defenders won their first ever league title, and this year marked the second straight season Warrior Run won a District 4 title, doing so in stellar fashion. The Defenders gave up just one run through three district playoff games, going 27 straight innings (including yesterday's loss) without giving up a run in the playoffs.
Parker's tremendous high school career came to a close with a nine-strikeout performance (260 on the season), which increased her career total to 899 as she established herself as Warrior Run's all-time strikeout leader, surpassing Laura Harris' mark.
While Warrior Run had an unfortunate early exit from the state playoffs this year, they did make history with a second straight berth. They won not only the school's first ever state playoff game last year, but also went to the state championship.
"They put softball on the map here at Warrior Run. Got to love what the girls have done. It's tough," an emotional Watson said after Monday's loss. "It's more than softball. That's why it hurts so bad because they are a good bunch of kids."
The seniors on Warrior Run certainly set the bar high after last year, losing a tough game to Neshannock in extra innings in the state final.
The Defenders ended this year 20-4 and came up a few games shy of what Parker and the rest of the team wanted to do: win a state title.
For those seniors, the memories and history they made together the past four years will no doubt trump the tough losses.