Holland receives emotional send-off from teammates
It was probably fitting that Kristal Holland was the only senior on the Basehor-Linwood softball team at Wednesday's Senior Night games. Holland has meant so much to the team in the last four years that she deserved an entire night devoted to honoring her.
Just two days after throwing a perfect game in front of a sparse crowd, Holland took the mound Wednesday against Lansing with a lot more fans out to see her last home games.
While they might have missed her perfect game dominance, those in attendance certainly got a good taste of her resiliency. As she has done so many times, Holland held the Bobcats in games against a quality opponent despite working with a tight strike zone.
Although the Lady Bobcats lost 2-1 and 3-1, there was nothing but praise for Holland at the end of the night.
"Every year she's grown and become a better leader by pitching and running the team," BLHS first baseman Laura Reed said. "She'll be missed."
Reed and Erin Shore will be the only seniors with varsity experience next season, which will give them the difficult task of taking on the leadership role that Holland will vacate. Although she's had three years to learn from Holland's example, Reed acknowledged it wouldn't be easy.
"Those are big shoes to fill," she said. "I'll just try to keep the team motivated, keep spirits high. It'll be tough, but I'll have Erin to help me."
Reed and Shore will have a tough task ahead of them next year, as will BLHS coach Susan Mayberry. Mayberry will have to replace an all-state pitcher and two-year varsity captain, as well as watch a friend move to Central Missouri State, where Holland plans to play next year.
"Kristal is a genuine, wonderful person. I don't think she's missed one practice or game in four years of competition," Mayberry wrote in a statement read during the Senior Night ceremony. "I will miss Kristal tremendously."
The ceremony also included a written statement from Holland, who thanked her parents, grandparents, coaches and fans. She also showed an obvious soft spot for her teammates, whom she referred to as "my girls."
"We have so many great memories," Holland's statement read, "From going to state, to those fun and exciting practices and, oh, those Easter practices. I love you all and am going to miss you so much."
The ceremony between games also included an alumni recognition portion, which drew just two ex-players, partly because the games had been been pushed back by rain. But the two who did attend brought a sense of history to Holland's big day.
Tracy Anderson, of the class of 1998, was there, taking a break from her full-time job at Children's Mercy Hospital. Anderson was a member of the first Lady 'Cats squad to win a regional championship, a feat which Holland and the Bobcats matched last season and are shooting for again this year.
The other alumnus in attendance was Terra Nichols, a 2004 graduate who now plays at Avila College and is very familiar with Holland's contributions to the program. Holland was the winning pitcher in a 2004 game when Nichols had one of the most dramatic hits in the program's history. She blasted a two-out walk-off grand slam to win a game in extra innings.
The always even-keeled Nichols said she remembered the hit and that it felt, "pretty good," which was possibly a bit of an understatement. Nichols added that although Holland was just a sophomore at the time, she meant a lot to that team as well.
"Pretty much the same thing she means now, the pitcher," she said.
That role will cement Holland's legacy at BLHS at least until the current players have graduated. For years, while other teams have employed two, three or even four different arms, Holland has been THE pitcher at Basehor-Linwood. For years she has known that she can't afford to have an off-day because there's not going to be anyone coming in to relieve her.
Still, despite that pressure, Holland has led her Bobcats on a steady climb through the standings and all the way to the state tournament last year. Whether she makes it back there this year or not, it will still be difficult to imagine that the next time the Lady Bobcats take the diamond at Field of Dreams someone other than Holland will be on the mound.
For Reed, who's known no other varsity pitcher in three years, that hadn't even come close to sinking in last Wednesday.
"It never will," she said. "Not until next year."