Originally published on Sunday, May 20, 2012
Kali Kocian's high-school career has a storybook ending.
After playing all four years on Shiner St. Paul's softbal team, the senior walks away with a pair of consecutive TAPPS 1A/2A state championship titles, including the one earned just over a week ago with a 9-0 victory against Faith Academy.
The win capped off a 13-1 run through the final portion of the Lady Cardinals' schedule, culminating at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where the senior went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs, RBIs and triples in the title game and was named to the all-tournament team.
As the lone senior on the roster, Kocian inherited the entire responsibility of being the squad's veteran leader, but she never doubted her teammates would rise to the occasion on the state's grandest stage.
"I knew what to expect, and I knew what had to be done," Kocian said. "The first two years, we lost, but then last year was our first time to win. So, I knew that feeling, and I didn't want to get that second-place feeling again. I told everyone, 'Hey, it's not a good feeling getting second, but it is a great one getting first.'
"We played great, and it just happened. There was no doubt in my mind that we weren't going to win. (My career) couldn't have ended any better."
The championship was the program's eighth in the past 10 years, and while it proved to be the ultimate going-away present for Kocian, it also served as a welcoming gift for eight freshmen and the team's first-year coach.
Chris Farias knew he had big shoes to fill when taking over, and following a bumpy 6-8 start to the season, the Lady Cardinals found their stride at the perfect time, embarking on a nine-game win streak at the end of the regular season before dominating their four playoff opponents by a combined score of 42-5, including two shutouts.
"Once they started to trust me, and once I kind of stepped back and trusted them, everything really came together," Farias said. "It was pretty amazing.
"It is still kind of a euphoric feeling, knowing we accomplished that."
And it is only appropriate a coach in his first season at the helm would rely on a freshman pitcher.
Despite her inexperience at the high school level, Abby Irvin allowed just one hit in the championship game, while striking out eight in the shoutout and earned all-tournament honors.
"When I struck the last girl out, it was surreal, and I can't believe it happened so fast," the lefty said. "It just felt amazing to win.
"We enjoyed winning this one, but we are ready for a third title next year."
Already talking about a three-peat might sound a tad arrogant, but Irvin insists the team is remaining humble amidst the success and is simply confident St. Paul will live up to its potential in the upcoming season.
The feeling is shared by Farias.
"It is an unspoken goal of ours right now," the coach said. "We have the mentality, though, that we are not going to settle for anything less."