Huffman leads Eagles 'family' into postseason

By Bill Althaus
Grain Valley junior Avery Huffman takes a personal 11-3 record to Platte County, where the 25-4 Eagles meet the 20-1 Pirates in Class 4 state quarterfinal action Thursday.

Whap! Whap! Whap!

The sound of a softball pounding a catcher’s mitt could be heard down the hallway leading to the Grain Valley High School weight room.

With a cold, rainy afternoon forcing the 25-4 Eagles inside, Avery Huffman took to the makeshift circle inside the team’s batting cage and got in some extra work as she and her teammates prepared for Thursday’s 5 p.m. Class 4 state quarterfinal game at Platte County.

One by one, Huffman’s teammates entered the batting cage.

And one by one, they exited after managing a loud foul ball or two off the junior standout.

“Avery has been great for us this season,” Eagles coach Garrett Ogle said, “but so has Hailey (Hemme) and all our pitchers and players.

“This is really a special team. They care so much about each other, and it shows the way they play.”

Huffman says she and her teammates just enjoy being with each other.

“We’re more like a family than a team,” she said. “We have so much fun playing with each other and I think that’s a big reason for all the success we’ve had this season.”

Huffman pitched six innings and combined with Hemme to no-hit Harrisonville in a 9-0 district championship victory to advance to the state quarterfinals.

“All you have to do is watch the girls play, or just watch how they interact with each other, and you can tell they love what they’re doing,” Grain Valley activities director Brandon Hart said. “And when you add a lot of talent to their team chemistry it usually results in a lot of wins.”

This has been a dream season for Huffman and her teammates.

“All summer I was wondering if we would even play softball in the fall,” Huffman said. “You’d hear one thing, then that would change. Then you’d hear something else, and finally I just decided I couldn’t do anything about the COVID. I just worked hard so I’d be ready if we did play.”

And she picked up where she left off following a successful sophomore campaign.

“She works so hard – pitching, hitting and fielding,” Ogle said of Huffman, who carries a 10-3 record, a 1.72 ERA and 123 strikeouts into Thursday’s game. “There’s a reason she’s as good as she is because she works at being good.”

Huffman said she gets that work ethic from her parents.

“My mom and dad have done so much for me over the years – driven me to games, to practices, paid for me to play in the summer,” Huffman said, “and I want to make them proud. They work hard and I want to work hard so they know how much I appreciate all they have done for me.”

The winner between Grain Valley and Platte County will meet Bolivar (16-6) or Webb City (25-5) in a state semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday at a site to be determined.