The Determinators travel softball team is set make its final pitch in fastpitch.
The Columbia County-based squad competed in the Midsummer Classic in Virginia Beach last week, and the 18-and-under team closes out its five-year run in the Hot Times Classic, which is being played this week in Florence, S.C.
By the time the Determinators are done, the team will have logged thousands of miles traveling to tournaments, and the players will have more than 225 games under their belts.
But even with all the success, which includes a USSS national championship in 2000, the memories are what matter most.
"This is like a second family - these are all my sisters," infielder Melody Johnson said. "I might start crying because I'm going to miss this."
Des and Bridgett Kayea have coached the team since its inception, while Terry Daniels and Wally Hardy also have provided their expertise along the way.
As the Determinators prepared for the final go round, the reality was starting to sink in.
"It's an emotional time, trying to figure out how to hold it all together," Des Kayea said. "It's been a real experience to watch these girls grow. They're ready to move on."
It will soon be time to say goodbye for current team members Adrienne Daniels; Laura Freeman; Katie Sutherland; Melody Johnson; Anna Cheely; Natassia Wilkes; Bekah Gibbs; Allison Foster; Sabrina Thames; Ashley Hale; Heather Jones; Amanda McGraw; Heather Kupitz; and Kimberlee McGahee.
"We've had some requests from parents to continue, but this is it," Des Kayea said. "I just don't know if I could find a group of girls that are as dedicated to what they wanted to do as this group. They had a goal and they met it."
A main thrust for the team has been to compete in "exposure" tournaments, which gave the players a chance to show off their talents to college scouts. Subsequently, many earned softball scholarships, including: Daniels (Liberty University); Jones (Georgia College & State University); Hale (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College); and, Johnson, McGraw and Foster (Georgia Perimeter College).
In the final two events, other players may garner attention - Wilkes, Sutherland and Cheely all are rising seniors searching for scholarships.
"We're hoping to come out on top, and the ones that are looking to get scholarships hopefully will get some bites from college coaches," Sutherland said.
The Determinators were the second Columbia County-based travel team to form, and the squad has been spending summers on diamonds for five seasons now.
"The first year, I knew this team had a long way to go. The team was small, and nobody had really heard of us," Daniels said. "Through each year, we earned respect, and I think we're the best team any way you want to look at it - from talented athletes, to academics, to sportsmanship."
While other travel teams get started then disband, Jones can explain what has kept the Determinators together.
"Humor, I think, because even when we yell at each other, we always come back with humor and we laugh about it," she said. "I've been on a lot of teams, but if you don't have chemistry, you don't have a team. No matter what program I go to, there will never be another one like the Determinators."
While some would think devoting summers to softball is a sacrifice, the Determinators wouldn't have had it any other way. "Just the rides to tournaments made it worthwhile," Daniels said. "We have so much fun."
When the wheels stopped turning, the fun continued.
"We were all crazy, doing thins we'd come up with that are still inside jokes now, stupid stuff no one else would understand," Jones said.
Like dancing in hotel hallways late at night; or cutting up in restaurants; and definitely the time Ashley Hale drank a banana through a straw at the University of Georgia softball camp.
Still, when the Determinators take a last at-bat, there is a fitting epitaph - it's not about wins or losses, or even about a group of girls having fun.
"The love of the game has really been strong for me. It's kept me going along the way," Jones says.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.