After losing three consecutive games in a midseason tournament in Oconee County, Greenbrier's softball team found itself in an unfamiliar position.
The Wolfpack were 10-8. Alumni, fans, players and coaches were unsure of exactly how the rest of the season would play out.
"Coach (Garrett) Black was very, very disappointed in us. He couldn't even talk to us after the game," junior shortstop Casey Rowland said. "We all got together and said, 'We need to step it up.'"
Then, as if on cue, Greenbrier got hot.
Whereas before the seniors had worried about possibly being the first team in program history not to win the region title, a 16th consecutive region championship was followed by a state playoff run to the Elite Eight.
Then, last weekend, the Wolfpack finished as runner-up in Class AAAA. The turnaround amazed even Black, who has seen plenty of Wolfpack teams come and go over the years.
"If you would've talked to me two months ago and said, 'Coach, y'all are going to play for a state title,' I would've said, 'You're crazy,' " Black said.
After dominating North Clayton in a first-round sweep and edging Whitewater in three games in the second round, Greenbrier advanced to the Elite Eight for the 11th consecutive year .
There, the Wolfpack opened the double-elimination tournament with two extra-inning victories -- 1-0 over Loganville and 2-1 over Union Grove -- before falling 9-2 to Jones County.
Facing elimination, the Wolfpack had a rematch with Union Grove, with the winner moving into the championship round.
Greenbrier went down 2-0 early. Then, senior Liz Kelligan came up with the bases loaded in the middle innings. She proceeded to hit a bases-clearing triple to left field that scored the go-ahead run in a 5-2 victory.
"I was ecstatic," said Kelligan, the starting center fielder. "I was happy for the team because I knew it meant a lot for everybody to make it to the championship game."
"That was a fun game because they were really arrogant," Rowland said of Union Grove. "So it felt really good to beat them."
With the win, Greenbrier had a shot at redemption against Jones County. The Wolfpack would have had to beat the Greyhounds twice because Jones County had not lost a tournament game.
Despite facing standout, 6-foot-4 pitcher Kristen Carr, the Wolfpack had shown that they could hang in against her. Rowland had tagged her with a solo home run in the earlier loss.
Greenbrier produced eight hits in the finale, but failed to score on several early chances, including loading the bases in one inning, in a 3-1 defeat.
"We'd always played good competition this season, but not back-to-back like that," said Savanah Coon, a senior who pitched every inning of every game in the Elite Eight. "You can never go out on the field just expecting to win. ... Going out there and playing the best competition made us better."
The second-place finish was a first for Greenbrier and gave the program a unique collection. The Wolfpack, who won the state title in 2004, have now finished in all spots, one through eight, at least once.
The Wolfpack started the season with plenty of big shoes to fill. For one, they lost a Division I-caliber shortstop in Kaila Hunt, who signed with the University of Alabama before graduating last school year. They also lost a three-year starting pitcher in Katie Tracy.
Looking back, Black said this season's experience was unlike any before it.
"It was a great journey this year," he said. "I learned a lot as a coach. Some of the games we won, I still scratch my head and say, 'How did we get out of that?'
"It seemed like every game, it was a different person stepping up to the plate and getting the big hit or making the big play in the field. It was a total team effort."
As a departing senior, Coon said she's already bored with so much free time now that her time with the Wolfpack is finished.
"And it's only been a couple days," Coon said. "Monday after school, I was like, 'What am I going to do today?' I already miss it."
She and her fellow seniors said they'll remember the team aspect at Greenbrier the most.
"I remember the times with the team," Kelligan said. "That's what means the most about this softball team is everybody pulling it together when we needed it."
Rowland will be among the returning players hoping to continue the legacy and temper the pressure that comes with playing for a program with so much success.
"I think every leader is going to have to step up next year," she said. "We're all going to have to show some leadership."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.