A Field of Memories
June 04, 2020
June 04, 2020
Hours after the lights dimmed on the Southwestern University Pirates’ spring season, seniors Kaitlynn Copher, Andrea Hern, Lindsey Longuet, and Sydney Scott ran out on the softball field one final time.
The day before, the team learned their season was likely done because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On that Thursday, as they walked out to the field for what ended up being one final practice, the softball players crossed paths with members of the women’s lacrosse team cleaning out their lockers, hearing the bad news.
“I’ve played softball since I was five years old, so it was very overwhelming,” Copher, the team’s starting first baseman the past four years, said. “But I’m a strong believer in everything happening for a reason, even when it’s hard to know what that reason is.”
Knowing it would likely be the seniors’ final practice, first-year head coach Emerald Doria let the four dictate what the team would do. The answer: snow cones at the Hula Cowgirl Shaved Ice Company.
“I was very blessed to start with the senior class I did. They jumped on board and bought in right away and showed a ton of leadership,” Doria said. “I’m just heartbroken their senior season was taken from them. This season, we talked a lot about not taking the game for granted and leaving everything on the field every time.”
The next day, the seniors decided to have a night for themselves, going to dinner at Dos Salsas in Georgetown, where they ran into Doria and her family.
“We wanted that one last moment, so we asked Coach Doria if she’d be willing to turn on the lights so we could experience the field one last time, just the four of us,” Hern said. “It was really cool because there aren’t a lot of nights where you’re just out there by yourselves with no fans, no coaches, no agendas—just us reflecting on the memories.”
Southwestern had already started clearing out earlier in the day. The cancellation of in-person classes coincided with spring break, so most of the students already had plans to leave.
By the time the four seniors gathered around 11:00 p.m., the campus was quiet and still. When the lights flickered on at Taylor–Sanders Field on a balmy 72-degree night, the moment was surreal, like a scene from the movie Field of Dreams, minus the miles of corn or apparitions of baseball’s past.
The quartet, or “Core Four,” as they’d come to call themselves, are all that remains of a class that started 14 strong in 2017. They joined a Southwestern program coming off three losing seasons and immediately helped turn the program around, earning starting positions in that first year and overseeing a combined 99-41 record through four consecutive winning seasons.
“We bonded really well,” Scott said. “What we accomplished, it needed all four of us together to leave the program in the shape it is.”
On this evening, each of the four trotted out to their positions. Scott ran out to centerfield, Hern and Copher took the corners of the infield at third and first, and Longuet stepped into the pitcher’s circle.
“It needed to be all four of us. We wouldn’t have been the same if one of us was missing,” Hern said. “You needed me and Kaitlynn on different sides of the infield, and Lindsey with the pitching staff, and Sydney leading the outfield.”
Of the four, Hern is perhaps the most natural leader, serving as a team captain and the president of the Lambda chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority that counts several of her teammates amongst its membership.
“I can’t say enough good things about her,” Scott said. “She’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever met. She’s confident without being cocky and knows how to bring people together in moments of crisis.”
During tense situations on the field, it was Hern who would call timeout and gather the team to take a minute to collect itself. Even before this night, Hern knew the value of stopping to reflect. Few have their finger on the pulse of a moment as much as Hern—or extract as much joy from it.
“Andrea is just someone who can always help me laugh things off,” Copher said. “She can make light of the biggest situations and keep everyone calm through adversity.”
Before social distancing became a mandate, Hern developed a funny tradition of noncontact with Longuet after being chastised for too much interaction during a game.
“Earlier this season, we got in trouble with the umpire for high-fiving too much, so we had to stop,” Hern said. “Lindsey ended up pitching a phenomenal game, so for the rest of the season, I refused to high-five her out of superstition. I’d run to the circle when she did great, but I wouldn’t actually high-five her.”
Longuet provided plenty of reasons for celebratory trips to the pitcher’s circle this season, including her first career no-hitter. The reigning SCAC Pitcher of the Year was in the middle of another dominant season, leading the conference in strikeouts (79) and wins (eight) while finishing second in ERA (0.85).
“Lindsey is a competitor. When it’s game time, she’s dialed in and ready to give everything she has for her team,” Doria said. “Her ability to spin the ball, move it, and change speeds make her a dynamic pitcher. A lot of pitchers are skilled, but she had that mentality where she wanted to own every hitter she faced. That kind of mental toughness can’t always be taught.”
That mental toughness was tested when knee surgery cost her the first half of her sophomore season, going through four hours of rehabilitation a day for over two months to make it back that year.
“I know it was really tough for her because she loves softball,” Scott, who lived with Longuet that season, said. “She worked harder than anyone I’ve seen to get back. She’s one of the toughest people I’ve met. On the field, she knows she’s got it and has the most confidence in the world.”
Because Longuet was so demanding of herself, she was able to demand more from her teammates, pushing them to surpass their own limits.
“She’s one of the most dominant pitchers in the conference, and I love how she knows this is her game and has the confidence to push us all to do better,” Copher said. “She holds everyone accountable because she knows she’s going to do everything she can and expects everyone else to do the same.”
In their last moments on the softball field together, there was time for Hern and Longuet to make up for lost high fives and an opportunity for the Pirates’ pitcher to do something she never really got the opportunity to do: run the bases.
“We were all messing with her because she never got to hit,” Copher said. “It was really awesome. Running the bases is something you don’t think of as something you’re going to miss when you’re done playing the game. But it’s something so simple and innocent, so in this moment, it was just special.”
Few in Pirate history have as much experience running the bases as Copher and Scott, who finished second and fifth in program history in total bases despite missing more than half a season.
For four years, Scott set the tone for the Pirate offense from the leadoff spot, where she finished second in program history in career batting average (.390) and on-base percentage (.435), trailing only Copher (.404 batting average, .441 on-base percentage). She also trails only 2014 graduate Karen Ramirez in career runs scored, scoring 117 to Ramirez’s 135 in 39 fewer games. “Sydney is one of those players that just leads by example,” Doria said. “She was the first one to see a pitcher, and she kind of made the team go.”
Scott says she arrived at Southwestern lacking confidence but not competitiveness. Few played as all out, which endeared her to her teammates. Their support, in turn, allowed her to build faith in herself.
“I’m a confident person now. My teammates built me up,” Scott said. “They believed in me.”
That confidence showed through most in her junior season, when Scott made a bold proclamation and followed through.
“When Taylor Curtis, the previous centerfielder, graduated, Sydney told me she was going to play center,” Copher said. “She said, ‘That’s my spot. I’m going to work hard and go the extra mile.’ And she earned it. It was a big moment, hearing her talk and determined to go after something and succeed. That really stuck with me.”
Over the years, Scott and Copher built a strong friendship and remarkable chemistry as teammates. Copher ended her career as the softball program’s all-time career RBI leader, with 128. The two estimate Scott accounts for almost half of that total. Given how many runs Scott scored, it’s probably a pretty accurate estimate.
“I loved having her in front of me in the lineup all four years because I know she’s an aggressive baserunner,” Copher said. “Many times when I was struggling, she’d be on second, and we’d make eye contact, and that was enough motivation. I knew all I had to do was just make contact and she was going to score, even if I didn’t get on base.”
“Whenever I was on second, I’d just point at her,” Scott said. “Then after, we’d talk about it in the dugout.”
“It was the smallest thing, but it really was major,” Copher said.
Those friendships helped carry Copher through all four years of softball, even as times got tough.
“I struggled with my love of the game throughout my career,” Copher said. “I think I lost sight of why I play.”
When Doria took over the program, she had a heartfelt conversation with Copher that still chokes the coach up a little.
“We worked on building a culture where we were playing for the person next to us, and Kaitlynn really bought in,” Doria said. “I think one of the things I will remember most about Kaitlynn is seeing that love of the game come back to her.”
“When Coach Doria took over, she focused on finding your why and working together cohesively,” Copher said. “That was really special to me.”
Even as Copher struggled to figure out why their season was lost, her appreciation for everything the game meant came into sharper focus.
As the four seniors gathered at home plate one final time before the lights went out at midnight, more than memories of the game came to life. There were the long bus rides on extended road trips, singing and telling jokes. There were years rooming together and struggles overcome.
“I’ve been in softball for 18 years; I can’t imagine myself without it now,” Copher said. “It’s part of who I am. It’s not my entire identity, but it’s definitely something I love about myself.”
“We knew from the start we were going to finish this out no matter what happened,” Longuet said. “That brought us closer together. We wanted to finish this out not for ourselves but for the group.”
“Just getting to play together all four years is a memory I’ll hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life,” Scott said. “They are some of my best friends.”
“I think the game teaches you a lot,” Hern said. “In softball, you fail more than you succeed, and you get better by never giving up. There’s always that next pitch, that next inning. It’s really important to use these life lessons the game taught us.”