|The Toughest Loss: NH softball team prepares for game in wake of teammate's death|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
May 18, 2004 -- Last Thursday, the North Hopkins softball team gathered after practice and talked about their plans for the next day when they were scheduled to be out of school.
With a playoff game looming tonight against McLeod, they were debating whether to have a workout on their off-day.
It was Scarlett Thompson who stood up and said, "We need to practice. I don't want to lose this."
Those are words the Lady Panthers will undoubtedly take into their regional semifinal game tonight, albeit with very saddened spirits.
Thompson, a senior outfielder, was killed in a one-car accident early Tuesday morning, less than two weeks before graduation.
Rather than the excitement of being two games away from a trip to the state tournament, the Lady Panthers will be battling not only McLeod but their own heavy hearts. While the Lady Panthers will continue with their playoff game tonight, the hole left in the lineup is incomparable to the hole in the players' hearts, said coach Jim Westbrook.
"She's a beautiful young lady, a joy to be around," Westbrook said. "Scarlett was compassionate, and she gave the whole team compassion. She had a love for everybody. She helped everyone get along.
"This is just a tragedy for her family and everyone who knew her."
Westbrook said Scarlett's parents and grandparents both urged the coach to continue with the game tonight. After meeting with the team, the game is still scheduled for 7 p.m. in Mount Pleasant.
"Her parents and grandparents and teammates all agreed that they think she would want us to go ahead and play," Westbrook explained. "But, I don't know how we'll do it.
"It's going to be an emotional roller coaster. We've never been in this situation before, thankfully, and I don't know how we'll do on the field."
Westbrook said the game could have been postponed, but "there's no good time now to play it."
The Lady Panthers will face McLeod (23-7), the 13-1A champions who have outscored their two playoff opponents, 26-1. They have seven starters batting over .300 and their pitcher, Regan Dunlap, has not given up an earned run in the last four games.
North Hopkins (15-9) has outscored its two playoff foes, 23-1, after winning District 11-1A. The winner will play the Dodd City/Rice winner for the Region II championship.
That's little consolation for the NH girls, who have been used to seeing Thompson in the outfield since she started on varsity as a freshman.
"She was a senior and this softball season was very important to her," Westbrook said. "She was really working hard to make this a good senior year."