By Nate Olson | Photo by Tommy Land
For the seven Nashville softball seniors, their careers can come full circle Friday.
The group has played together since they were 5, beginning in the city league and moving into travel team competition. The talented group will be trying to end their careers together celebrating a state title at 4 p.m. Friday against Valley View at the Benton Athletic Complex.
“We have always stuck together,” senior star pitcher Maci McJunkins said. “It feels amazing to [be playing in the state championship game], and we have each other’s backs and just know each other so well. We are excited to be playing in a game like this together.”
Nashville coach Boomer Brown, who is in his third stint at the school and who has been a successful defensive coordinator with the storied Scrapper football program, first met the group in fourth-grade PE class.
“It is a dream come true for them,” said Brown, who has dubbed the seniors 'The Magnificent 7.' “This group has been molded since they were 5 or 6 to be in this position. Having them in the fourth grade and seeing the young ladies and ballplayers they have matured into is just awesome.”
The journey to the state title game didn’t come without some heartbreak, though. A season ago, the Scrapperettes lost to eventual state champion Morrilton at Morrilton 4-0 in the state tournament semifinals, dropping Nashville’s season mark to 31-2.
“We were already down before that game, and I don’t know what the reason was,” McJunkins said. “We were not upbeat or mentally ready and made some errors in the first inning. We just kind of knew we were going to lose the game. We got nervous, and the home-field advantage got to us. We weren’t ourselves.”
Brown said the team “pressed” more than it had, and the rocky start was the result.
The bitter taste of coughing up that game stuck with the rising seniors and the other Nashville players. They went to work in the offseason determined to get past the semifinals this season.
“We didn’t talk about winning a state championship, we talked about winning one more game than we did last year,” Brown said. He said the team began working out three times a week when school started, and both the varsity and JV squads went undefeated during a slate of fall games.
“I knew then, we were going to be ready,” he said.
Brown was right. The only in-class loss came 1-0 on March 15 to Bauxite in a 7-4A Conference game. The Scraperrettes rolled the rest of the way through league play and dropped nonconference games to Class 5A nationally ranked Benton and Class 6A Rogers.
Bauxite again pushed but Nashville won 5-3 in the regional tournament after dropping the second conference game 6-0.
Then came a rematch with defending state champion Morrilton in the state tournament quarterfinals in Nashville. This game actually began in a more nightmarish way than last year’s semifinal game as McJunkins surrendered a grand slam in the opening frame and dug a 5-0 hole, but the Southern Arkansas University commit bounced back and held Morrilton hitless the rest of the way in a 16-6 win.
“It would have been easy to get our daubers down, because we hadn’t given up five runs in 15 games combined and [McJunkins] could have started throwing beach balls, but she didn’t let it affect her, and bared down.”
The game certainly didn’t start well, but McJunkins said Nashville wasn’t intimidated or nervous like the previous season.
“This year when we played them, we knew they were really good, but we knew we had to have an upbeat mentality and just beat the crap out of them,” she said.
After lighting up the Devil Dogs, Nashville blanked Stuttgart 10-0 to earn a berth to the title game.
Brown says when his team is “on, they are a tough out,” and it is loaded with talent led by the seniors, who are 86-13 in their varsity careers.
McJuninks is 22-3 in the circle and has an earned run average of 0.81 and has struck out 243 batters. She also hits .379 and is tied for the RBI lead with 36 and has the most home runs with five.
Versatile Ellen Spigner is described by Brown as “one of the Top 5 catchers in the state,” but she moved to second base so that super sophomore Emalea Bailey could start behind the dish. Brown said she is also among the best in the state.
“For Spigner to move to second, that means a lot,” Brown said. “This group is selfless.”