Owen Babe Ruth 14U softball team finishes second in the region
The 12 girls that make up the roster of the Owen Babe Ruth 14U Softball team - the Dark City Storm - sported big smiles on July 10 as they celebrated a second-place finish in the southeast region in Stafford, Virginia.
But even as players and coaches hugged and congratulated one another, it was hard not to think about who wasn't there.
Roger "Butch" Stamey passed away less than a year ago, in October 2016. At only 54 years of age, his death was obviously tough for friends and family to reconcile. And his family included the girls of the Dark City Storm, according to Jason Hamilton, who coached alongside Stamey for years.
"Our jerseys this year featured a 'CBS' right under 'Dark City Storm' for 'Coach Butch Stamey,'" Hamilton said. "Him and I coached most of these girls since they were eligible to start playing softball."
Over the course of nearly a decade the group became much closer than a typical team.
"It was important to Butch that we were much more like a family than a team," Hamilton said. "These girls have grown so close as a year. Sometimes when I watch them I get chill bumps at how tight they are."
That dynamic was evident throughout the 2017 regular season, when the Storm didn't lose a single game and played up to the level of competition they faced each game, according to Hamilton.
"If we faced a good-hitting team, we stepped up on defense," he said of the team's performance. "I saw girls make plays I hadn't seen them make before. That family relationship made them not want to let their sisters down."
The team made enough plays to finish second in the district behind a team from Hendersonville, which allowed the Storm to qualify for the state championship tournament in Candler, where they again finished second. Their performance in the post-season tournaments qualified the Storm for the regional tournament in Stafford.
"Up until last season, no 14U softball team in the (Swannanoa) Valley ever made it as far as state," Hamilton said. "So advancing to regionals was pretty special for us."
Hamilton and his team spent four days in Virginia, where they beat a team from the state in the opening round doubleheader.
"Just like in state and districts there was one team that was just a little better than us," he said. "We played well though."
The Storm went 2-2 in the tournament, falling twice to a team from Florida.
"Each team played the other team twice in the bracket," Hamilton said. "We managed to beat the team from Virginia twice."
Once again the Storm qualified to advance, this time for the Babe Ruth League World Series in Stuart, Florida on July 19. But after talking to players and families the team decided not to make the trip.
"We figured it up and would've been around $25,000 when it was all said and done," Hamilton said. "Our families had just been asked to go to regionals so if (we) would've gone to Florida I wanted to fund everything. It just didn't work out."
Hamilton was proud of his team, especially considering what they have been through over the past several months.
"Since we always preach to them about being a family and not just a team, they lost part of their family last year," he said. "They were able to deal with the loss of Butch and have a good season."
As the players and Hamilton look forward to the beginning of the travel ball season in August, the loss of Stamey will continue to weigh heavily on their hearts.
"He always wanted to take the girls to the next level," Hamilton said. "Going to regionals was a dream he never got to see while he was here. It really took a toll on the team, but I know he would've been proud."