Senior Moment: Three Lady Cats will be honored on Senior Night
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Cutline: SSHS seniors Tara Gibby, Brandi Laine and Nichole Fender (above) have taken on the leadership role during their final year on the softball team. SSHS wraps up the season Friday night for Senior Night.
Staff Photo by Butch Burney

April 19, 2006 - And then there were three.

When Senior Night activities begin Friday evening, there will be just three Lady Cats being honored - the leaders of a team that unlike the past several years is made up of mostly underclassmen.

The trio of 12th-graders - Tara Gibby, Nichole Fender and Brandi Laine - has taken on the mantle of leadership for a squad that will end the season with four freshmen and four sophomores on its roster.

The previous two years, the Lady Cats had at least eight seniors on the team.

"It's fun to be a leader," said Gibby, a three-year letterman. "There were only three seniors this year, so we all had to step up and be leaders. There are a lot of underclassmen who helped, and it was fun getting to know the new girls and younger girls.

"It's different because there were a lot of girls in my grade and we all played together and were on traveling teams. Then we get to be seniors, and there are only three of us left."

SSHS head coach Tommy Grammer said Gibby has shown the most leadership by accepting a mid-season move from shortstop to the outfield.

"Tara's a great athlete, probably one of the best athletes we have on the team in terms of speed and natural talent. We needed her speed in the outfield, and she made the switch with a positive attitude," Grammer said. "She responded best as a leader and made some wonderful defensive plays. She didn't pout or hang her head because she was switching positions. She worked hard and was very mature."

She made one of the highlight plays of the year on Friday when she scooped up a slap hit on the rim of the infield and dove head-first into first base to force out Texas High's Briauna Birl to lead off the game. She also had a seventh-inning single that almost plated the game-winning run.

She leads the team in walks (six) and sacrifice bunts (six), and is third on the team in runs scored with five.

Gibby, a First Team All-District shortstop as a junior and a two-time All-District volleyball player, viewed her position change as another challenge.

"It was different. I've always played infield, but going to the outfield was different and new, and it was pretty exciting for me," she said. "It was difficult at first, but I learned a lot about outfield that I never knew. 

"I never thought I'd learn this much my senior year. I thought I would know everything, but I don't."

Laine, another senior, had a lot to learn as well. Playing third base, she has been the cornerstone for the Lady Cats' bunt defense.

Grammer, in his first year as head coach at SSHS, put in a defense that relied heavily on the third baseman.

"It's the hardest position on the field, in my opinion," Grammer said. "You get hot shots down there, you have to run your tail off to cover bunts, and I run a lot of coverages where I just have my pitcher and third baseman cover bunts. I ask a whole lot of my third basemen, and Brandi responded very well."

Laine said it's helped having supportive teammates and two adopted little sisters, ages 2 and 3, who cheer her on. She's played through a shoulder injury that forced her to miss one game.

"Besides softball, I usually just go home and play with my two little sisters who are newly adopted," she explained. "We were their foster family at first, and they've been in our house for a year now. They come to all the games and are my little cheerleaders."

She is second on the team in RBI with four and is tied for the team lead in doubles with two.

"I like the games where you're adrenaline gets pumping, and there's so much excitement in the air," Laine said. "This is like my second family - besides at home, this is my second family because I can depend on them for anything. I like that adrenaline rush and the excitement. "

For Fender, a two-year starter at catcher, the best part of the game is the competition.

"I like the competition the most. My ninth-grade year, I played here and Coach (John) McCullough told me to go play Dixie League," she recalled. "I tried it, but there's no way I could do it because it was totally a different concept of the game. There's more competition here and you work harder.

"I've caught for a good seven years. I like being right in the middle of the game, having everything going on around you."

The Lady Cats hope that there will be more going on around them after Friday. Their regular season finale is against North Lamar, but if the Lady Cats win and Paris loses to Greenville, they will be tied for third place and have a one-game playoff to see who enters the state playoffs.

The Lady Cats hope to keep a string of six consecutive playoff appearances alive.

"It seems like it just started the other day, and it's gone by pretty quick," Fender said. "It hasn't been the season I was looking for, not the season to end on, but it couldn't be helped."

Grammer said Fender, who has a team-high .987 fielding percentage, was pivotal for the Lady Cats.

"Nichole got most of our starts behind the plate. She's the type of kid who works hard - all of our seniors are. They've done a great job all season long," he said. "The year didn't turn out the way we expected - we didn't have the bats we needed, but we had good strong defense and certainly she was instrumental in that."

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