BRETT BERWAGER

Pope John Paul II’s 2021 softball season began in an unusual way almost 500 miles from home.

For the first time, the team traveled to play in a preseason spring break tournament in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

A 0-6 tournament performance may not have been the way the team wanted to begin their season, but the bonding experience is now what’s proving to be one of the keys to their success.

That couldn’t have been more apparent Tuesday afternoon as the Lady Knights rolled to a 15-0 team victory on their home field over Ensworth High School.

“We played ball, had some team bonding and they really got to know each other there,” Lady Knights Head Coach Ashley Burton said of her team’s tournament trip. “They were able to just relax and have fun. It’s made it a very good environment.”

The Lady Knights showed that togetherness Tuesday as they tallied 14 hits, supported by a dominant pitching performance from Lillie Van Metre and KK Peyret. The team won on a 15-run mercy rule in the fourth inning, moving its regular season record to 3-2.

“My pitches were working pretty well and I feel like as a team we really hit collectively,” Vanmetre said after the win, “and I feel like the game wasn’t a one-person game. It was the entire team.”

Van Metre pitched a no-hitter through three innings and further contributed to the win by driving in four runs on an RBI triple, walking with the bases loaded and connecting for a two-run home run.

“It was a 3 and 0 count and I looked back at Coach Ashley, and I was praying that she wasn’t going to give me the ‘do not hit’ sign,” Vanmetre said. “She gave me the green light, so I was looking to swing at anything that came towards me.”

Pretty typical of Van Metre, Burton said.

“She’s a senior, a four-year starter and four-year starting pitcher. Definitely one of the leaders on the team all the way around. She’s just a solid athlete,” Burton added.

The Lady Knights were also led by Peyret, who connected for three hits and three RBI’s with Aspen Whittington, Analeigh Donovan, Tanyiah Britt and Addie Rice each recording two hits.

Despite the loss, Ensworth Head Coach Derrick Pritchard said it was a productive game and a learning experience to play against an established program like Pope John Paul II.

“I thought they came out and competed well,” Pritchard said of his team. “A lot of opportunities to learn from our mistakes today and get better, with things to work on for our next opponent.”

Ensworth was only playing their second game of the season due to flooding earlier last week, which damaged their home field and also forced the team to replace most of its equipment.

“We have a very young program — a lot of girls that haven’t played or softball is really new to them,” Pritchard noted, “so every day that they can come out and play against an opponent that is quality is an opportunity for them to learn and grow and get better.”

“That’s our big takeaway — every day we’re going to try to come out and learn something.”