FREWSBURG - When the bus carrying the newly crowned state champion Frewsburg Bears softball team pulled into the school parking lot in the wee hours of last Sunday morning, the players, along with Coach Jon Blanchard and assistant coach Tom Mott, were greeted by more than 100 people.
Speeches were made.
Music was played.
Frewsburg softball coach Jon Blanchard exchanges a high-five with his players during last week’s Class C Far West Regional victory over Keshequa. Days later, the team had even more to celebrate when it captured its first New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship in Queensbury. Upon their return home, the girls and coaching staff were greeted by more than 100 people at Frewsburg Central School. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg (above)
Photo by Steve Cass (below)
Heck, the girls on the team even danced.
And when it all finally broke up, it was after 2 a.m.
No one seemed to care.
''That's a testament to how tight this community is,'' Blanchard said.
It's also a testament to a special group of young ladies who cared more about each other than they did about a game's outcome. To them, winning was merely a bonus; being together was the important thing.
''Our goal all year was to win the next game so we could play another two days together,'' Blanchard said. ''Tom Mott and I told the girls to have fun, play the game hard, but winning and losing wasn't the most important goal for our season.''
So last week when Frewsburg traveled to Olean for the Class C Far West Regional to take on top-ranked and unbeaten Keshequa, Blanchard was given a gentle reminder before the girls took the field by his youngest daughter, Kaitlyn, an eighth-grader on the team.
''She told me, 'Dad, the most important thing is for you to have fun, so we all play our best,''' he recalled.
The Bears breezed to an 8-1 victory, earning their third straight trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four.
''I don't think we were the most talented team,'' Blanchard said, ''but we did learn how to play together and we sure did love to play together, especially in that regional game. We came in against an undefeated team and the best team in the state for five weeks in a row and we were No. 12 or 13. Our goal was to go out and have as much fun as we could.''
The girls took that same attitude with them to Queensbury, determined to continue their postseason run as long as possible.
After dispatching of Pierson/Bridgehampton, 7-0, in the semifinal - seniors Sam Mott and Alanna Blanchard combined on a no-hitter - the Bears found themselves playing for the state championship for the first time in school history against Sandy Creek of Section 3.
''Throughout our playoff run,'' Blanchard said, ''we've had five or six different heroes in five or six games, which was kind of storybook.''
The ending confirmed that dreams do come true.
Leading, 2-1, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning- Frewsburg's runs were the result of Mott's solo home run and Alanna Blanchard's single - the Bears came ever so close to seeing the victory slip away. With the tying run at third, Mott's pitch deflected off the glove of catcher Reyanne Strong. At the very least, extra innings appeared an almost certainty.
''Reyanne ran back to the fence and slid like she would into second base,'' Blanchard said. ''She bare-handed the ball and then back-handed it to Sam, who was sliding into home to block the plate. She put the tag down.''
Mott held the ball up for the umpire to see.
The man in blue made the ''out'' call.
Frewsburg was finally a state champ.
''It all worked out the way we wanted it to work out,'' Blanchard said. ''We played the games for the right reason, I believe, and in the end it paid off. I think we taught the girls a lot of things about life in the last few years.''
In turn, the girls showed their coach how building relationships transcended anything that happened on the field.
''It's not science,'' Blanchard said. ''It's life. You get to that point where you build relationships with a group of 12 other girls and you know it's not based on how you perform, but on who you are.
''We really started to believe that.''
Others took notice.
Blanchard said at the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 2 all-star meeting, Frewsburg was the recipient of the team sportsmanship award. And when the hardware was presented in Queensbury last week, the Bears came away with the state sportsmanship award for the second straight year.
''I was almost as proud winning the sportsmanship award at the states as I was winning the state championship,'' Blanchard said. ''It was really an honor to win the states, but to also be recognized by all those people at the state tournament (was something special).''
''They won the championship for themselves,'' Blanchard said, ''but what they don't know is they won it for the however many players I've coached in the last 20 years. That's really what they did.