Authors: Barbara L. Clanton
Tags: #! Yes
“Ball one,” the umpire said.
The catcher leaped up and made a motion to throw down to first base, so Lisa scrambled back to the base. The next pitch to Marlee was in the dirt, but the catcher made an awesome stop and kept it in front of her. Ball two.
Christy’s third pitch floated right down the middle of the plate, and Lisa knew instantly the East Valley team was in trouble. Marlee swung and connected. The ball sailed over Susie’s head in left field. Lisa had just run past Sam when Marlee’s smash bounced on the grass outside the fence.
“Yeah,” Lisa shouted and pumped a fist. Marlee had just hit a grand slam homerun off the cow that had tried to kill her.
Lisa crossed the plate and waited for Marlee to cross. When she did Lisa grabbed her in a hug. “Way to go, pitcher.” Lisa didn’t let go, so their teammates had to hug them both.
Lisa went back to the bench and grabbed a sip of water. She took a deep breath before throwing on her catcher’s gear. She knew never to count out the Panthers, but it was nice being up by a score of 4-0 with only one out in the first inning.
The Cougars didn’t score any more runs in that inning or the next. In the bottom of the third, Christy walked Lisa again. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Marlee came up and smashed a double up the left field line. Lisa ran past Sam again, and scored all the way from first base. That put the Cougars up by a score of 5-0.
The score remained unchanged when the top of the sixth inning rolled around. It was the Panthers turn to bat, but they seemed like a team deflated. Batter after Panther batter fell victim to Marlee’s rise ball. The third batter of the inning struck out swinging, and Lisa tossed the ball to the pitcher’s circle. She hurried in and stripped off her catcher’s gear since she was due to lead off the bottom of the inning. Julie helped by unhooking the shin guards.
“Thanks, White Girl.” Lisa kicked off the shin guards that Julie had just unhooked.
Julie pointed toward Marlee. “Does she know yet?”
Lisa almost choked. How could Julie know about the East Valley-Clarksonville gay girl drama going on? There was no way Julie could know about the decision Marlee had to make. Oh, wait. Julie had to be talking about Marlee’s perfect game. Not a single East Valley player, Sam and Susie included, had gotten on base.
“Julie, c’mon. Marlee never thinks about perfect games or no-hitters.”
“You know what?” Julie laughed. “It’s probably better that way.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Lisa picked up her helmet and bat and took a couple of swings in the on-deck circle. She watched Christy throw her warm-up pitches.
Lisa jumped when Marlee snuck up behind her and whispered, “Does the whole team know about me? Me and Susie?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Batter?” the umpire called for her.
Marlee grabbed Lisa’s arm. “No one’s looking at me or even talking to me.”
“Geez, Marlee, you are so slow. And I shouldn’t even say it, but you sound paranoid. You have a perfect game going, dorkhead.” Lisa took a step toward the plate. “And you know as well as I do it’s a jinx to talk to a pitcher who’s on her way to a perfect game.” She headed toward the plate. “Yeah, it’s brain damage all right.”
She dug her heels in the batter’s box and waited for the first pitch. Christy hadn’t given her a single strike the entire day and apparently didn’t intend to because Lisa walked for the third time.
Marlee stepped into the batter’s box and smacked the first pitch into the three-four hole just out of Sam’s reach.
“Burned,” Lisa said to Sam as she ran past her toward second base.
The right fielder tossed the ball back in to Sam who tossed it back to Christy. Sam walked over to Lisa on second base. “Burned? You just wait until I get you alone later, we’ll see who burns.”
“Ooh, now that sounds interesting.”
Sam smiled and backpedaled to her position.
Lisa looked at Marlee who wagged her finger as if to tell her to stop cavorting with the enemy. Lisa quite maturely stuck her tongue out at her pitcher.
The Cougars couldn’t move Lisa or Marlee any further along on the bases, so the score remained 5-0 going into the top of the seventh and potentially last inning.
The Panthers from East Valley had to score at least five runs or their season would be over. Lisa squatted behind the plate. She expected to be more tired at that point, but her legs still felt strong. Of course, three up and three down every single inning helped in that regard.
Lisa flashed the sign for fastball. Why mess with something that was working? She put her mitt up on the inside corner. “Just you and me, Marlee.”
Marlee’s pitch hung over the plate, and the leadoff batter hit a hard ground ball right back at her. Lisa ran up the line to back up first base in case of an overthrow, but Marlee fielded the ball cleanly and tossed it to Julie for the first out of the inning.
“Nice,” Lisa called on her way back behind the plate. “One pitch, one out. Just you and me, one more time.”
Lisa called for three fastballs. The batter swung and missed on the first two pitches, and the third pitch nicked the inside corner for strike three. There were two outs with one more to go.
Lisa tried not to smile. Marlee was one out away from a perfect game. All they had to do was get through Sam. Sam, self-admittedly, had trouble hitting against Marlee.
Lisa swallowed hard when Sam stepped into the batter’s box. The feathered ends of Sam’s blond ponytail stuck out from underneath her helmet. Lisa bit her lip as she remembered running her hands through Sam’s soft hair the night before. She took a deep breath to clear her head.
“One more, #3. Just you and me.” Lisa squatted behind the plate and flashed the sign for fastball. Marlee put her hands together to start the delivery. Lisa put her mitt up for the pitch, but then Marlee stepped back off the rubber. Sam stepped out of the box, and the umpire called for time.
Lisa, not knowing what to do, stood up. She thought for sure Marlee was about to take her hat off and nod at Susie telling her she’d take her back, but she didn’t. She simply stepped back on the pitching rubber as if nothing had happened and waited for the sign. Lisa squatted back down, Sam stepped back in the box, and the umpire leaned low. Lisa flashed the sign for fastball again.
“Okay, Marlee. Just you and me.” Lisa got into position. No girlfriends or drama right now, pitcher. Just you and me. Lisa felt bad rooting for her own girlfriend to strike out, but she kind of had to.
Marlee fired her first pitch. Strike one on the outside corner. The next pitch was inside, just missing for ball one. Lisa called for another fastball. Sam swung and fouled it off for strike two. Lisa searched for the big money pitch. The rise ball, it had to be. Sam always missed it. Lisa flashed the signal for rise ball, but the ball rose just out of the strike zone for ball two. Lisa was surprised that Sam laid off the pitch, because she usually swung at them. With the count even at two and two, Lisa called for another rise ball, and Sam laid off that one as well. The count went full at three balls and two strikes, and Lisa’s heart jumped in her throat. If they walked Sam, Marlee’s perfect game would be lost. There was no choice. Lisa flashed the sign for fastball and put her mitt smack dab in the middle of the strike zone.
, Lisa willed.
Meatball. Let Sam hit it.
Marlee’s pitch was true, but Sam’s swing was truer. Sam connected with the fat pitch and sent it flying into the eight-nine gap between Jeri and Paula. Lisa’s heart sank. Why did it have to be Sam who broke up the perfect game? Marlee was going to be heart-broken.
Lisa waited for the inevitable, but then a miracle happened. Jeri, from out of nowhere, leaped for the ball, and snatched it out of the air.
“She caught it. She caught it!” Lisa yelled.
Jeri landed face down on the grass and held the ball high in her glove.
The umpire yelled, “The batter is out!”
“Holy!” Lisa ran up to Marlee. She hugged the stuffing out of her pitcher, but she didn’t care. They had just won the North Country League championship game and kept Marlee’s perfect game intact.
Julie, Johnna, and the rest of the infielders joined them in the pitcher’s circle and celebrated, then en masse stormed Jeri in the outfield.
After celebrating with her teammates for several minutes, Lisa realized she’d lost her mitt somewhere along the way, but she didn’t really care. She looked around for Marlee and found her standing with Jeri. They were looking at Susie on the visitors’ bench. Susie looked haggard and drained. Lisa’s heart went out to her.
Lisa walked up just in time to hear Marlee say, “You are awesome, Jeri.”
“No, you are awesome, Marlee.”
“Shut up, both of you,” Lisa said. “You’re both awesome. But, Marlee, you still have that decision to make, don’t you?” She gestured in Susie’s direction.
“Yeah,” Jeri added, “that decision, Marlee.”
Marlee’s smile fell away. “No, I made my decision.”
Lisa’s heart dropped. Susie would be so disappointed. “Oh, okay.” She shrugged and turned to find her mitt.
“I decided to do this.” Marlee pulled her hat off her head and nodded her head a half dozen times.
Lisa and Jeri cheered. Susie stood up, the relief on her face obvious. Sam smiled, too.
Lisa smacked Marlee on the arm for teasing them and then went in search of her mitt, so she could let Marlee approach Susie alone.
A few minutes later, Coach Spears called the team together for a post-game huddle in left field. “Girls, this game is the direct result of the hard work you’ve put in all season. Each and every one of you made this happen. Hitting, fielding, throwing, base running, you mastered the fundamentals and became a championship team.”
Lisa and her teammates cheered and clapped.
“It’s a little surreal for me, actually,” Coach Spears continued. “I’ve been waiting a long time for just the right combination of talent, but we have to thank our biggest workhorse. To pitch a perfect game in a championship…” The words caught in Coach Spears’s throat and her eyes welled with tears. Lisa felt tears brimming in her own eyes.
Marlee cleared her throat obviously trying to regain her own composure. “Listen, guys. I get credit for the perfect game, but every single one of you had a hand in this. I mean, how about Jeri’s SportsCenter catch?” The team clapped for Jeri. “And Coach Spears? She kept telling me I could do anything I set my mind to.” The team clapped and cheered for their coach. “But I have to give most of the credit to Lisa.” Lisa’s teammates clapped and hooted for her. Lisa felt her cheeks get warm.
Marlee put her arm around Lisa’s shoulder. “Lisa very humbly says that I’m the train, and she just keeps me on the track, but it’s so much more than that. She calls all my pitches. Even in college, the coaches call the pitches, but Coach Spears lets Lisa do it, because Lisa truly is the catching goddess of the universe.” Her teammates cheered again.
Coach Spears patted both of them on the back. “I am truly blessed to have such a talented and cohesive team. Now, Jeri? Paula? I’m pleased to tell you that your high school softball careers are not over yet. At best, we’ll play four more games and be the New York State Division C champions.”
Lisa screeched, “Whoo hoo!” She took a deep breath. A state championship in softball was unheard of in Clarksonville High School history. Clarksonville had never even won the North Country League championship before. Ever. That honor always went to East Valley or Southbridge.
“But, ladies,” Coach Spears continued, “every game is single elimination, so every game is do or die. If we lose, we’re out. So all we have to do…” she looked every single player in the eye, “…is win the last game we play.”
“Win the last,” Lisa said.
“Yeah,” Jeri agreed. Jeri put her hand in the middle of the players’ circle. Lisa put her hand on top followed by her teammates. “On three everybody. Win the last. Ready? One, two, three!”
“Win the last!” the team shouted.
The meeting broke up, and everyone headed toward their waiting friends and families. Even Coach Spears headed toward a dark-haired woman whom Lisa suspected was her girlfriend.
Lisa patted Marlee on the back. “Thanks for saying those nice things.”
Marlee smiled at her. “I meant every word.”
“Thanks. And, uh,” she gestured toward Susie and Sam waiting for them near the bleachers, “it looks like you and I are win-win today.”
Marlee grinned, and they bumped both fists in double-victory.
LISA PULLED THE family minivan into Marlee’s driveway. “Thanks for letting me drive, Mom.” She pulled off her seatbelt and opened the driver’s side door.
“Sure, honey.” Her mother got out of the passenger side, and they met in front of the van. “I feel better letting you practice driving now that the roads aren’t snowy and icy. Just remember this day when I ask you to chauffeur Lynnie, Lawrence Jr., and Bridget around next year.”
“Geez, getting my license doesn’t sound as much fun anymore.”
Her mother laughed. “Samantha will bring you home by midnight, right?”
“Yeah, I think Susie’s driving, though, but I’ll make sure I’m home on time.” She gave her mother a quick hug. “Love you, Mom. See you later.”
Lisa walked up the driveway to Marlee’s house. This time she wore flats and navigated the gravel drive more easily than the last time she’d been there. She heard her mother back the van out and head down C.R. 62 toward home.
Lisa smoothed down her red fitted shirt. She’d spent half that morning figuring out what to wear because she wanted Sam’s eyes to pop out when she saw her. Not that long ago, she would have been smoothing out her shirt to impress Marlee and would have rejoiced in the fact that she was going out to dinner and the movies with her, but not this time. Lisa was more excited about going out with Sam, even if it was on a double date with Marlee and Susie. She knocked on the kitchen screen door.