Happiness is winning a state championship. Proof is on the faces of these Gibbs softball players after their 2-0 win over Goodpasture in the TSSAA Class AA finals. Front row, from left: Karri Byrd, Dani Jefferson, Samantha Smith, Ashley Swaney, Savannah Foster. Middle row, from left: Kaitlyn Trent, Kaitlin Beeler, Amber Swaney, Cheyenne Boles, Rachel Farmer, Megan Farmer. Back row, from left: Lexie Needham, Logan Baker, Anna Mershon, Kaetlyn Walker, Faith Lowry, Holly Moyers. Photo by James Spears, SpearsPhoto

By Steve Williams

The satisfaction of working for something special and accomplishing it – a state championship – isn’t going away anytime soon, if ever, for members of Gibbs High School’s 2012 softball team.

“We’re still on cloud nine,” said head coach Carol Mitchell Wednesday. “It feels great.”

When the Lady Eagles turned in their uniforms last Tuesday, tears of joy were still being shed.

This group of players probably would have liked to have kept the uniforms, even as they were – dirt, sweat and all.

“They didn’t want to give them back,” said Coach Mitchell.

Gibbs doesn’t have to part with the memories of its 2-0 victory over Goodpasture on Friday, May 25, in the TSSAA Class AA state finals in Murfreesboro. It was the school’s ninth state title in softball but first since 2000.

Seniors on the team could have been in kindergarten the last time the Lady Eagles won the gold.

“They knew it had been a long time,” said Mitchell. “They’re all very aware of the tradition of the softball program.”

This Gibbs team had a special identity.

“They are very blue collar,” said Mitchell. “Some of my teams in the past have just been better than everybody else, period. (As for) this team, by no means could you look at us in the beginning of the year and even in the middle of the year and think, ‘Well, they’re just better than everybody else.’ They worked hard. I think that’s why they are so passionate about the championship. They’re still in tears, and we’re four days after the fact. And they are still crying because, I think, there’s a satisfaction they saw that when we work hard and we improve, then this is what can happen. And it did.”

Gibbs’ approach was to focus on the process, not the end result.

“We just tried to make ourselves better every day,” explained Mitchell. “The coaching staff pushes, but the girls have to respond. And that’s exactly what happened. We pushed them. They responded. They got better every day. They got better every game. We got to the state and pretty much dominated.”

Gibbs beat Upperman 9-0 and White House 3-0 before surviving a scare in the winners’ bracket finals, a 7-3 victory over Goodpasture in eight innings. The title-clinching victory over Goodpasture was the Lady Eagles’ 22nd consecutive win and gave them a season record of 42-5.

“We lost four talented girls from the previous year,” said Mitchell, looking back on how the season started. “You never know at the beginning of the season what type of leadership you’re going to have. Are other girls going to step up and take those positions? We had to move some people around and make some adjustments, but everybody was willing to play their role and be part of the team.”

Samantha Smith, Gibbs’ No. 1 pitcher for four years, limited Goodpasture to two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four in the finale. Goodpasture did not get a base runner past second and was set down in order in five of the seven innings.

Gibbs struck for its first run in the second inning. After two outs, Kaitlyn Trent and Ashley Swaney singled and Karri Byrd doubled to right field to drive in Trent.

The Lady Eagles got an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Dani Jefferson singled, moved to second on Savannah Foster’s sacrifice bunt and to third on Cheyenne Boles’ double before scoring on a passed ball.

Gibbs’ starting lineup and batting order at the state was senior Megan Farmer, first baseman; freshman Faith Lowry, center fielder; junior Dani Jefferson, shortstop; junior Savannah Foster, catcher; freshman Cheyenne Boles, third baseman; senior Samantha Smith, pitcher; sophomore Kaitlyn Trent, second baseman; senior Ashley Swaney, designated player; sophomore Karri Byrd, right fielder; senior Amber Swaney, left fielder.

Smith has signed a softball scholarship with Lincoln Memorial University, while twin sisters Ashley and Amber Swaney have signed with Cleveland State Community College.

Gibbs will have “a good core group” returning next season, said Coach Mitchell. “We still have to replace the four seniors.” That includes Smith, “who pretty much dominated the second half of the season.”

Rachel Farmer will take over on the mound. She had a 10-0 record in varsity play as a freshman.

“Hopefully, we can work her enough this summer that she will be ready to step right in and not miss a beat,” said Mitchell.

“People are probably going to move positions,” added Mitchell. “It happens every year. It’s like a puzzle and you just got to find the right fit.”

This season’s puzzle turned out to be a picture of a championship team.