Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Equipped with a power-packed lineup and six returning starters from a team that reached a district semifinal last year, Unioto’s softball program had high hopes this spring.
Then, COVID-19 reared its ugly head and dashed any hopes of the Tanks taking the field.
The cancellation of the spring sports season forced Unioto to say goodbye to eight seniors in Hallie Pinkerton, Jerzi Paul, Haley Holt, Payton Britton, Grace Anderson, Madie Brown, Jaylah Kennedy and Annie Cox — a group that led the program to 46 wins in the past three years.
While they’ll never forget how their careers came to an abrupt end, the Tanks’ seniors would also rather focus on those 46 wins and the boatload of memories they made while collecting them.
“When I think about my senior class on the field, I think of us as a family,” Pinkerton said. “We have stayed together for a long time as a group and even with [Unioto] coach Rob [Hull] helping us and my dad [Dave Pinkerton] in eighth grade, we’ve all been together since the beginning. We’ve grown together and have been through so many ups and downs along the way.”
Pinkerton would’ve been an unquestioned leader on this year’s roster. The four-year starter was expected to shoulder the majority of the team’s pitching duties and anchor the top of the lineup.
The same could be said of third baseman Haley Holt, who hit .395 with 32 RBIs last season.
“My senior teammates mean the absolute world to me,” Holt said. “With the majority of the team being seniors this year, we all knew how bittersweet this season would be. It is so heartbreaking knowing we won’t get to take the field one last time together. They are the best teammates I could have asked for.”
Pinkerton and Holt were just two pieces to the puzzle.
Paul, Brown and Britton were also returning starters and would’ve been joined in the lineup by junior Jade Zickafoose and sophomores Avery Miller and Carissa Wheeler.
Together, they were expected to challenge Westfall for the Scioto Valley Conference title.
“These girls really put in the hard work this offseason and leading up to our first week of scrimmages, they were really starting to gel,” Unioto coach Rob Hull said. “They were definitely a group that was going to go out and battle. They had already been battle-tested throughout their high school careers, and they were coming into this year with an attitude, an attitude to win. This senior class will definitely be missed. They helped change the culture at Unioto.”
That winning attitude was fueled by last year’s 2-1 loss to Sheridan in a Division II district semifinal. The Generals won that contest with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh.
Even though it was a loss, it’s a game that will be replayed in the back of their minds.
“I would definitely go back and relive my very last game at OU last year,” Pinkerton said. “The whole atmosphere, and intensity and anxiety we had, was unforgettable. The experience was amazing and I’m sad that we won’t even get the chance to go back and do it again this year.”
Of course, there are other moments that won’t be forgotten.
“The one moment I would relive would be my first home run at Chillicothe [last spring],” Paul said. “The feeling and shock running through my body was like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I loved all the celebration from the fans and my team during that.”
But what may be remembered the most is how close this year’s graduating class was.
The leadership that was displayed, the sense of togetherness, and the competitive edge all stand out. When you faced the group, you knew you were in for a battle.
“My classmates, my teammates, and my friends all became a second family,” Pinkerton said. “You see these people everyday and build strong relationships with some. I’ve been blessed to have a very good class academically, athletically, and just as good people in general. Over the last four years, some friendships have come and gone, but the people I am close to now will always impact my life in a positive way. They have helped me grow so much.”
When this spring is looked back on, there will always be questions of what if brought forward.
That’s understandable, and in Unioto’s case, it’s regretful. Had the group gotten the chance to play, who knows what could’ve happened.
But the leadership and talent this senior class had will always be there. That, if nothing else, can never be questioned.
“The senior leadership was really starting to show in practices and that started with our three captains, Hallie, Haley and Jerzi,” Hull said. “They had put together team goals, and there’s no doubt in my mind that every goal was achievable.”