Tears of joy flowed, hugs and smiles abounded and members of the Oak Grove softball team let their two heart-and-soul seniors know just how much they have meant to the Panthers the past four years.
The two lone seniors – catcher Tatum Dunham and first baseman Gracie May – starred in Oak Grove’s 11-1, six-inning, mercy rule win over Grain Valley Thursday afternoon and Dunham and May were in the middle of all the action.
Dunham, who now owns the Oak Grove single-season home run record with seven, had two singles, a double, scored a run and added three RBIs and May reached base four times – two singles and two walks – and scored a run and had an RBI.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what those two girls mean to me and this program,” Panthers coach Toni Brundage said, wiping away a tear. “They are my first four-year players, they come to play every day, they are great leaders and they will always have a special place in my heart.”
Following the Missouri River Valley Conference West win, the girls were honored in an emotionally charged ceremony hosted by Mr. Oak Grove, longtime assistant principal Randy McClain.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after he talked about what the dynamic duo meant to the Panthers – on the field, in the classroom and in their community.
“We love Oak Grove,” said May, the black eye guard on her cheeks streaming down her face. “We’ve lived here forever – this our home, we know everyone in the school and in our community and I wouldn’t trade this night for anything.”
Dunham, who also sported the streaking black eye liner, nodded in agreement, and brushed away the tears.
“I got to share all of this with my best friend,” Dunham said. “This is an amazing night. We’ll never forget it and we want to thank all our teammates and everyone who made it happen.”
Junior pitcher Lilli Weir nearly stole the spotlight from her senior teammates as she allowed just one infield single and let her infield take care of anything that looked like a base hit.
“Weren’t Bailee (Martin, second base) and Summer (Collier, shortstop) amazing?” asked Weir, as the keystone combination combined to rob the Eagles of at least four hits. “My defense did it all for me tonight.
“But I don’t want to talk about my pitching, I want to talk about our seniors. Tatum and Gracie are amazing. You can tell how much they mean to all of us. It was so important for all the underclassmen to play well tonight so we could honor them with a win.”
The Panthers gave Weir a 3-0 first-inning lead on a two-run single by Collier and Maddy Coone’s RBI single.
Grain Valley scored its lone run in the second inning when Autumn Bicknell crossed the plate on a Weir balk – and that was it for the Eagles. Kate Arnold’s third-inning single was the only other offensive highlight.
Oak Grove scored four runs in the fifth on three Eagles errors and claimed the mercy-rule win with two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Coone finished with three and Cheyenne Minnick, Collier and Tommi Lightle each added two hits for Oak Grove.