ENNIS — Sharrika Levingston walked up to the batter’s box, pausing momentarily to carve something in the dirt and blink tears past her eye black, the pain of loss and the sting of regret.
On the fourth pitch, she crushed a home run that would be the statement of the evening, but not before passing the smaller one — a W — she had drawn with the business end of her Louisville Slugger.
Though Levingston’s home run was the catalyst that helped the Lady Indians win a softball game on Friday, get into the playoffs and down a varsity Ennis High School team they hadn’t bested at Lady Lion Field in recent memory, it also marked a final goodbye from an old friend.
“Every time I’d get in the box and get two strikes or get into a bad situation, I’d always look down at coach Wakeland and he’d say something — positive or negative, it didn’t matter — that would help me,” Levingston said, fighting to choke back the tears and sadness threatening to pour forth. “Before every home run, he’s always said something to me. When I looked down the line I said, ‘Come on Wakeland say something to me. He was there with me.”
She said it was the late Waxahachie coach that sparked her sixth inning home run that helped jumpstart the Lady Indians’ offense during the 5-3 win against the Lady Lions.
Joe Wakeland, the Lady Indians assistant head coach, died suddenly on Thursday at his home.
That crucial home run began a sixth inning where the Lady Indians scored five runs on only three hits. The combination of offense by Levingston and fellow sophomores Ariana Robles and Addy Redd and five strikeouts from sophomore hurler Talia Salinas ensured a victory, despite a lopsided hitting disadvantage.
Salinas threw 126 pitches in seven innings with a strike percentage of 60, nearly doubling the production of senior Mo Monreal, Jadya Emerson and Cadie Gillespie, Ennis’ three-pronged pitching attack.
The Lady Lions out-hit WaxahachieHigh School 10-3 during seven innings of softball, held their opponents scoreless throughout five straight innings and received three strikeouts by pitchers seniors Monreal and Gillespie, but faltered late and uncharacteristically for a team ranked No. 2 in District 14-5A before Friday night.
The night wasn’t only emotional for its players, either. The loss of Wakeland weighed on fans, parents and coaches of players in both dugouts — every person who cared about him enough to call him friend — including the woman who stared down the line at Levingston when she hit her home run.
“It wasn’t really me out there, It was him. We had to beat Ennis and he was there with us to see it,” said Kristin Upton, a varsity assistant coach for the Lady Indians, about having to step into Wakeland’s shoes as the first base coach. She repeated the mantra again while shooing a tear from her eye, as if thanking Wakeland for a parting gift. “I don’t know what else to say. He was there. I believe it in my heart and I know he was.”
Regardless of the game’s outcome, celebration of his life during the pre-game release of balloons inscribed with special messages to Wakeland or the midnight candle vigil which brought more mourners to honor his life, Salinas said Wakeland's death hadn’t truly hit her or her teammates. She noted both their close relationship with the assistant head coach and its premature end.
“It’s hard. I knew it was going to be a positive effect or a negative effect on us,” Salinas said. “We were either going to do really good or it was going to go really bad. We took the positive route and let the pain fuel us and honor him.
“I caught (fly balls in the outfield) for him a lot this season, but I’ve known him for a long time,” she said. “We all have. He was like family to us and we were his girls. I think it finally hit us tonight that he’s not coming back.”
Marcus S. Marion can be reached at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusMarionWNI.