Junction City softball vs. Topeka, May 2019

Junction City’s Megan Hunt pitches in relief during Thursday’s regional game against Topeka High at Hummer Sports Park. The Lady Trojans won 13-1 to end the Lady Jays’ season.

TOPEKA — Junction City softball’s season came to a close Thursday, falling to Topeka High 13-1.

But head coach Aaron Craig’s head wasn’t hanging low afterward. Recalling where his team was just a year ago, he said he was encouraged with the Lady Jays’ upward trajectory.

“I think it’s a step forward,” Craig said. “Last year was a really tough season for us. This year we did face a lot of adversity, but at the same time our kids showed up every day and they never quit. Those are things that we thank them for, and for that you need to thank their parents for instilling those values into them.

“You look at the season and say, ‘Hey, they won four games and lost this many,’ but there’s so many positives that people probably don’t see that compared to last season. So I look at it as a win, and I think it’s a good foundation to build on.”

A big second inning from the Lady Trojans put the game out of reach early on, when they batted around and scored 10 runs to extend their lead to 13-0 . Alidsha Vazquez got the Lady Jays on the board in the fourth inning. A pickle between first and second base gave her time to speed home from third base before the runner was tagged out to end the fourth frame.

At the conclusion of the game, Craig took the team to another field’s dugout, with Garden City hitting the diamond to face Topeka in the championship. With music blaring during the title contest’s warmups, Craig wanted the team to hear his message loud and clear.

“The first thing we talked about — first and foremost — was our seniors,” Craig said. “This is my third year, and I just felt like as a senior group they’ve had to face adversity. I feel like they all stepped up to the plate in their own way to help guide that.

“I wish there would have been a better outcome for our girls. We saw this team in Game 1 of the year, and I think we played better today even though the score might not indicate that. I think we did some things we didn’t do the last time we saw them. All in all, it’s not the way we wanted to end the day or season, but I think it was a good day for the kids who came out to play (considering) the things we faced all season.”

With a young roster, the seniors who won’t be back next year had a message for the returning players.

“We have five freshmen who came with us (and) three of them were playing,” Craig said. “That’s what our seniors kind of talked about. ‘What can you do from this. Where can you go? What can you take from it?’ Their message was all the same: compete, get out there and play, get in the weight room, build your teammates, build relationships, and most importantly, listen to your coaches. That was really good honesty from our seniors. They talked about sometimes it goes through one ear and out the other. But when it’s all said and done, what we are doing as coaches, they understand.”

Even though Junction City’s season ended Thursday, the work doesn’t stop. The offseason is what will prepare the team for the 2020 campaign.

Craig encouraged the team to keep the competitive juices flowing away from the field to keep the momentum going.

“Get out and compete,” Craig said. “Join other sports, get out and do more than just one sport. If you don’t get to make a team with the high school, get an opportunity to compete somewhere. Get competition in your life every single day. Be in the weight room, throw the ball every day, go hit once a week, do the things that you need to do all year round.

“Don’t just show up in March and say, ‘I want to play softball’ and things of that nature. If you can do those things, if we can get our girls committed to that with the other things and find time to do that, I think our season next year could start off really well.”