CELEBRATING 18 wins through the season, the Columbus North softball family enjoyed plenty of wonderful moments.
Friday night’s Columbus North Sectional championship game at Lincoln Park was not one of them.
The coaches, players and fans who had celebrated together, shared the pain of a 4-0 loss to Bloomington South.
Tears fell inside and behind North’s dugout as an 18-11 season came to an end, along with the North coaching career of Jerry Burton.
Burton, who retired after five years as North’s head coach and 23 years overall as a head coach, was left to reflect on 366 wins, eight sectional and two regional championships and a whole lot of precious moments with his players.
“Throughout much of this season, we had dealt with adversity,” said Burton, who was one of the few people in North blue who was emotionally composed. “Whether it was pitching and lineup changes or overcoming obstacles, we pulled together, and I couldn’t be more proud of our effort.”
Friday’s game started like it would be a fight until the final out, but the Panthers (17-8) broke through for four runs in the bottom of the third.
North, which had four hits to that point, didn’t manage another hit the rest of the game.
“We knew we had to play a flawless game,” Burton said. “We got in real good positions early on to score, but we couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities. My hat’s off to South for the pressure they were putting on us.”
Although the seniors were saddened after coming up short of a championship, they said they always will remember the camaraderie.
Senior pitcher Grayson Harney praised the team’s support system.
“I’m going to miss the support we had,” Harney said. “We had a roller coaster of a season, and built a strong relationship with one another that will last way past softball.”
“This is our life,” senior Denisa Brooks said. “All of the seniors had a love for this game, as well as the rest of the team, and it’s going to be hard to leave this group.”
Both Brooks and Harney didn’t waste time thinking of their leader for the past four years.
“He was definitely tough at times,” Brooks said of Burton. “But it was his tough attitude that got us where we were this season.”
“He wanted to push us to our limit every day,” Harney said. “He gave his heart to softball and wanted the best in all of us, and we are definitely going to miss him.”
Burton said the senior leadership, that also included Shannah Hercamp and Marissa Anderson, helped an already growing team.
“They were role models for the younger girls,” Burton said. “They picked the girls up when they were in a tough spot and became leaders without being asked.”
When it came to reflection, Burton said it all started when he got hired for his first position.
“I think about the first day I was hired as a softball coach at Columbus East,” Burton said. “It all started there. If they didn’t give me the opportunity 23 years ago to coach softball, who knows where I would be.”
“I have dealt with a great group of ladies and great parents,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be their coach and their friend. I couldn’t be happier.”
Harney said she will miss the special moments with her teammates following the school day.
“The seniors always went to practice telling stories about what happened at school,” Harney said. “We would joke around and had fun every time we practiced. The seniors looked at each other in our most recent practice and thought, ‘What will we do when this is over?’”
While ending his career with a sectional championship win would’ve been nice, Burton said he will always remember the impact he left on the players.
“It is always nice to win, but to have girls come back every year and tell me that they appreciate everything I do for them was a much better feeling.”