By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Remember the Three Musketeers? Trivia note: there were actually four of those swashbuckling French swordsmen who defended their country and a queen’s honor. “All for one, one for all” was their inspirational motto. They were inseparable.
Bedford North Lawrence’s version of those literary heroes is the senior foursome about to play their regular-season homefield finale. Annie Waggoner, Braxton McCauley, Lauryn Anderson and Hayley Davis are the diamond equivalent of Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan. Bonded by a love for the game and each other, indivisible for most of their lives. All for one goal – winning.
They are also the Three-Year Musketeers, the last group to go through the program with only three high school seasons. The virus shutdown of 2020 cost them their freshman campaign, when the Stars were poised for a sensational season. They’ve been making up for that lost time since that unforgettable day when their world, and their spirit, was temporarily crushed.
No senior class has had more success. They’ve been a part of 76 wins (and counting) and back-to-back Class 4A regional championships. They’ve shattered records, they have led the Stars to dramatic victories and consoled the disappointed following heartbreaking losses. They have set standards of excellence that will be used to measure future generations.
Think they’ll be missed? “Trust me, yeah,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said, not wanting to dwell on the inevitable days ahead.
“We’ve had some great players – and one of them (Sarah Stone at Indiana) is playing on television every other day – but this group all about one thing. We have one goal. And it’s not for someone to be the home run leader in the state, or someone to be the strikeout leader in the state. It’s to win as many games as we can, go as far in the tournament as we can.”
The Stars, ranked No.4 in the latest 4A poll, certainly have a chance for another long postseason run. That would not be possible without star power. BNL definitely has that. Waggoner (the career leader in pitching wins who just went over 500 career strikeouts) and McCauley (who just set the program record for career doubles) are part of that. Waggoner, an Indiana State recruit, has been the ace in the circle. McCauley, on her way to Purdue, plays center field with effortless grace and overlooked aplomb, and she’s hitting a robust .452 in the cleanup spot.
Anderson, who switched from left-handed slapper to right-handed snapper at the top of the order, is hitting .405 and leads the team in runs scored. Davis has stepped into the lineup at first base and provided needed pop deeper in the lineup.
How far they’ve come, especially when considering what they lost. They can’t help but look back to the erased season and wonder “what if” a few times. That was the most difficult time of their lives, and it helped them learn appreciation.
“Everybody kind of reevaluated the way life was, in some ways,” Gilbert said. “It affected everybody, the simple things you couldn’t do.
“Our kids were primed and ready. We had a great preseason workout, our pitchers were throwing with movement, our kids were hitting well. The first three days of practice were great. Then all of a sudden, it’s not there. It was sad, and it wasn’t fair. There was nothing we could do about it, but it was tough.”
“That definitely helped me appreciate my high school season,” Anderson said. “I had been looking forward to that since I was 8 years old. When I found out we weren’t having it, I cried. Now that we’re about to be out of here, I appreciate it more.”
“We knew that was one of ‘the’ teams,” McCauley said. “It sucked that it got cut short. We could have gone really far.”
That collective chip on the shoulder remains. These seniors are motivated by that memory, spurred by the losses that ended the last two seasons. “We made sure we worked extra hard,” Davis said. “We had to make up a whole year, to get to where we are today.”
That powerful passion reveals a deep love of the sport. It started when they were barely old enough for elementary school, hardly tall enough to keep those oversized shorts hitched up and the braided hair out of the way. It survived those tough car rides home (ahem!) after struggles. “I still wanted to come back and play,” Anderson said with a smile. “So I must love it.”
That love, which can be a cliche, is genuine. It shows with their interaction with teammates, with their fondness for the fan base.
“It’s having this family,” McCauley said. “They are the sisters I don’t have. I just love how everyone is there for each other.”
“It’s their leadership,” Gilbert said. “They’ve all played a lot of softball, at different levels. It’s the way they go about doing things. They can get on somebody, without getting on somebody, without it being a gripe or complaint.”
Example: BNL was trailing Seymour on Tuesday, headed for a possible third straight loss. Anderson spoke up. “She was like, ‘Hey, people come to our games because they like watching us play. And we’re not playing well. We need to get this thing going,’” Gilbert said. The Stars rallied in the seventh inning to win. Record that speech for future reference.
On the white board in the locker room, the simple message was written “Don’t be a Nancy, be Polly.” Translated, that means don’t be negative (N for Nancy), be positive (P for Polly).
“As a coach, it makes you feel good that they’ve bought into what we try to communicate, to support each other and be one, big happy family,” Gilbert said. “I’ve had other coaches tell me ‘We’re sick and tired of talking about Bedford. All our kids talk about is how you get along. Is it for real?’
“Yes, it is.”
Here is the other reality. Much is expected. The Stars have created lofty expectations, they have great goals in mind. Even amidst all the distractions – graduation, college choices, etc. – their focus has not wavered. They refuse to acknowledge pressure.
“We focus on playing the game we know how to play,” Anderson said. “It’s always just a game.”
“We want to go to the state finals,” Gilbert said. “Just give us a shot. But we don’t talk about it every night. We talk about having fun, working hard and getting better. We want to enjoy the ride. I don’t want the pressure – and it’s kind of their fault, they helped build it – to be on them all season.”
The worst part will be Senior Day on Saturday, when the Stars (20-7) host Edgewood. The emotions of the celebration and ceremony, the escorting of parents, the tears and hugs, will be far worse than facing the most powerful of pitchers.
“I remember in middle school, thinking ‘That’s going to be me,’” Waggoner said. “Now we’re here, and in a blink it’s gone.”