COLUMBIA — After the game, the Rock Bridge High School softball team huddled together in a tight circle in left field. Their hands joined together, the team gave a tearful, shaky rendition of the school’s fight song.
It would be the last time the team would perform the postgame ritual.
The Bruins lost to Jefferson City 4-2 on Thursday night in the Class 4, District 9 playoffs at Cosmopolitan Park, ending the high school careers of the team’s five seniors. After the final out, Rock Bridge coach Janel Twehous called her players together and tried to console a visibly distraught group.
The seniors were crying. The underclassmen were crying. Twehous’ eyes misted as she tried to contain her own emotions.
When a team has been through a season’s worth of moments — wins and losses, triumphs and disappointments — there isn’t much a coach can say.
“It’s hard to talk after a loss like that,” Twehous said. She paused and smiled, glancing over at her players in the background. “It’s hard to talk. So basically I just let the seniors do the talking.”
The seniors — Lauren Fuller, Kelsey Harrington, Whitney Wipfler, Kali Barnes and Kelsey Nietzel — did talk, though finding the words to describe how they felt about each other was difficult.
“We just said it was a good year and thanked everybody for pulling through together, for being a team,” Fuller said quietly. “We were a team.”
After the huddle and their final fight song, the players scattered throughout left field, hugging and consoling each other. Twehous hugged a despondent Barnes and whispered encouraging words into her ear as tears streamed down the senior’s face.
The team was not ready for their season to be over. The seniors were not ready for their career as Bruins to be over. Their disappointment, as well as their appreciation of each other, was evident.
“They’re my best friends, on and off the field,” said Fuller, who hit a home run and pitched four innings in the game. “We’re done playing together … but that doesn’t mean that we don’t stay friends, you know. Our team has been great.”
Despite the disappointing and abrupt ending, the team’s accomplishments throughout the season were significant. The Bruins went 23-5, including a 10-0 record at home.
More than wins and losses, Fuller said it’s her teammates and the things that they were able to accomplish together that she’ll remember.
“There are so many memories you take from every season and every group of girls you play with. It’s always different,” Fuller said. She gave a feeble smile, trying to conceal the disappointment riddled across her face. “I mean, there’s so many good memories that come from it, and I guess everything has to come to an end sometime.”
That end, for the Bruins, came Thursday night.
As fans exited the field after the game, Rock Bridge’s players remained.
None of the players were ready to leave. They hadn’t finished hugging yet.