BLUEFIELD, Va. — The Southwest District has had a representative in the Class 2 softball state championship the last four years, winning twice.
Richlands won in 2019, its third consecutive trip to the title game, while Lebanon was state champions in 2016 as well as consistently appearing in the state tournament.
Having two of the top teams in the state, it proves to be a difficult challenge for the other teams in the district to advance far in the postseason.
“No doubt it’s the toughest district in the state,” Graham softball head coach Scott Thompson said.
The G-Girls had their first winning record in over 20 years in 2019 and were looking to make an improvement on that this year.
“Building on top of that, my expectations was to make it to the regional tournament this year,” Thompson said.
Playing top teams in the state twice each year in the regular season and then again in the postseason, the Graham players see the level they need to be at to be competing deep into the postseason.
“If you can compete with Lebanon and Richlands, which the past couple years they’ve been loaded, then there’s no reason we can’t compete with anybody,” Thompson said. “It’s been a struggle to keep up with them sometimes but the girls get motivated and they show it.”
The Graham softball program traditionally never had a lot of victories. The group of kids that are playing key roles now and in the future have been part of winning teams.
“The girls that I have ...they’ve always been used to winning and losing to them — it really hurts. They never like to lose. Now that we’ve established that we are a winning program they don’t want to stop,” Thompson said.
Graham experienced winning a state championship in 2018 when its Senior League softball team won the Virginia competition before advancing to the regional tournament.
All but one of its players were members of this year’s high school team. That gave the players belief that they could win.
“It was a big step for the girls in their eyes. It showed them that they’re capable of whenever they go out and play ball the way they’re capable of, they can compete with anybody,” Thompson said.
A small team turns out every year. But once the G-Girls build chemistry between the returning veterans and the promising newcomers, that’s when the foundation for success is laid.
“Once everyone kind of clicks, that’s when they start having fun and when they start having fun that’s when they win ballgames,” Thompson said.
Graham was set for a strong season highlighted by senior Jocelyn Thompson on the mound. She is headed to play softball for Bluefield College in the fall. Whether it be in the circle or at the plate she was a leader for the G-Girls.
“She’s a tone-setter, if she’s doing something good its like the whole team is doing something good,” Thompson said.
This year’s pitches would have been thrown to junior catcher Hannah Hass. Thompson saw big improvements in her skills during the offseason and was anticipating seeing the results in games.
“She really improved over the course of the offseason and I was looking forward to having her catching,” Thompson said.
Sophomore Kylee Thompson and freshman Chris Flanagan were among the other players looked on to make contributions.
The G-Girls only graduate two seniors and will gain a number of players from a solid middle school team that has had success.
“The girls coming up know what I expect from them and they expect the same thing out of themselves,” Thompson said.
“It has kind of established the younger girls to look forward to coming into a program that is winning,” he said.