The majority of players will part ways following their final high school athletic contest.
But a pair of Lewis County softball players will continue to play together at the next level.
Gracie Yates and Jalyssa Cortez had their high school careers come to a close last Monday, but both have signed to further their athletic careers at Shawnee State University.
“Since the season just ended and we knew we were going to be able to play softball again, it wasn’t as sad as it could have been,” said Yates. “I’m excited.”
The Lady Lions fell in the 63rd District semifinals to Russell, 5-4. They held a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, but Russell was able to plate two runs to walk off with the victory.
“It was definitely sad the way our season ended, especially because the game was in the bottom of the seventh,” said Cortez. “It was sad, but knowing that I was going to get to play in college helped me with it.”
Initially, Yates was considering attending Kentucky Christian University, while Cortez was thinking about going to Morehead State University, but both also had Shawnee State among the list of their top colleges.
“We went to camps over the summers, so we were interested over the past couple years about playing there,” said Cortez. “It helped us get to know the staff and choose to play there.”
For Yates and Cortez, they’ll continue playing with some others they know from the travel circuit. The two will join several teammates from their Southern Ohio Vipers team.
“It helped us continue to play past our season,” said Cortez. “A lot of those girls are who I’ll be playing with at Shawnee, so I already got to know most of the players.”
The two also played basketball together through high school.
For Cortez, who averaged 8.4 points per game as a senior and plans to study nursing in college, it was never a doubt that softball was the route she wanted to take to the next level.
“It was always a dream of mine, but I never knew if I’d actually get the chance to do it,” said Cortez. “I’m glad I’m giving myself an opportunity.”
She appeared in all 31 games for the 15-16 Lady Lions this spring, batting .387 with five doubles, two triples and four home runs, according to statistics submitted to MaxPreps.com. She drove in a team-leading 28 runs and scored 27 times. Cortez split time in the circle this season, mainly with seventh grader Emily Cole. The senior pitched a team-high 92.1 innings, posting a 5.31 ERA with eight wins.
Yates, on the other hand, wasn’t always sold on softball.
The 5-foot-6 guard was the second-leading scorer and rebounder on the team as a junior with 9.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. She increased her scoring to 11.1 points per game as a senior, while also averaging 4.7 rebounds for the 12-17 Lady Lions.
“It was really hard. It took me forever to decide what I wanted to do,” said Yates. “At first I was sold on basketball, but when softball rolled around I realized I didn’t want that to be the last time I played softball.”
Yates recorded a .450 batting average this spring with 12 doubles, two triples and three home runs. She drove in 21 runs and scored 36 times in 31 games for the Lady Lions.
Lewis County basketball coach Jay Fite, who already had one of his players – Allison Voyles – sign to continue her basketball career at the next level, is glad they’ll be able to continue playing together in college, even if it won’t be on the hardwood.
“We always tell the kids that it doesn’t matter if you go on to play college basketball. For me, I’m going to love them just the same. I just expect their best effort,” said Fite. “They’ve been best friends since they came into the program with us. To get to see them get to do that at the next level, whether it’s basketball or softball, is a great opportunity. Having a friend there helps. They get to go through the change together. It’s a great opportunity for both of them.”
Shawnee state went 27-22 the past season, falling in the double-elimination Mid-South Conference Tournament, first to Cumberland University, 11-5, and then to Georgetown College, 7-1. It was the Bears’ first winning season since 2014, when they went 26-24.