Derek Taylor: Byrd makes one last flight for 'Skins
VIENNA, W.Va. -- Haley Byrd was a regular fixture of the Hurricane softball starting lineup in 2012.
Not an everyday, every inning player, Byrd handled corner infield spots depending on where Coach Josh Caldwell needed her, which typically depended on whether Emily Davis or Courtney Rogers were in the pitching circle.
Unlike the 2013 season when Rogers and Davis switched positions between third and pitcher, Rogers played first base as a freshman.
When Hurricane began the year as this writer's pick to win the Class AAA state title -- for those keeping track, the article appeared in the Daily Mail on March 5 -- Byrd was hard to find in a scorebook, much less on the field.
In fact, in the 11 games I covered involving the Redskins in 2013, Byrd had never made an appearance.
Until the Redskins' 5-0 win over Wheeling Park in the Class AAA state title game Thursday, that is.
Freshman Maddie Hebb singled to start the bottom of the sixth inning, with the Redskins leading 4-0. Hebb, who essentially took Byrd's spot in the starting lineup this year by becoming a solid player at first base, was then lifted from the basepaths in favor of Byrd.
"I was just like, 'Me?' That was my first question, and they said 'Yeah, get out there,'" Byrd said of her reaction to getting an unexpected call into the lineup.
Back-to-back singles by Madison Casto and Nicole Pierson followed to load the bases and put Byrd on third. Cassi Sargent then hit a ground ball to Park shortstop Kristen Slater, who wanted to throw home to force Byrd out. Slater misplayed the ball, however, and Byrd scored what proved to be the last run of the season for the state champions.
"I love Haley to death. She's one of my favorite players," Caldwell said. "She's had a shoulder injury most of the year and with about a week or two left in the season I just basically told her -- her shoulder's basically gone -- I'd put her in to run a few times.
"I told her she scored the last run of the season, so that's a special thing for her, and for all of us."
It was a moment of great sportsmanship and caring from the one person a team looks to as its greatest source for inspiration in those two areas -- the head coach. Caldwell has built a monster of a program in just five years at Hurricane, but perhaps the strongest thing he has built among the Redskins is unity.
"That was fantastic," said Byrd's classmate, senior All-Kanawha Valley and All-Tournament catcher Linzie Reynolds.
"Especially that it was her. Battling the injuries that she's had, her being able to come out and score that last run was just ... I know she's feeling something inside as a result of that," Reynolds said.
Byrd said the season, while difficult to endure because of her injuries, has been anything but a downer.
"It's been good, with the team. I've been picking everybody up and everybody's picked me up when I'm down. I'm just glad to be a part of this," she said.
There was no fanfare over the score. No one stopped the game to give the kid a game ball or anything overly sentimental. It was a subtle tribute by a team to one of its own that had played a significant role in helping get the program to the heights it is now enjoying.
Byrd was a starter for the only Hurricane team that won the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship, after all.
It should never be forgotten in Hurricane or by members of that program, either, for it embodies what has been the team's calling card throughout this championship season. The Redskins won 33 games with any number of players serving as the offensive -- or defensive -- standout on any given night. One of the hardest things for opponents to deal with was the sheer depth within the Hurricane lineup.
That depth came from players most from outside Hurricane had perhaps forgotten about.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT