SPRING LAKE — Overhills seniors Elizabeth Mitchell and Maaika Dones stood side-by-side and addressed the Lady Jags fans in attendance following their final home game last month.
Despite the 11-1 loss to Pine Forest, it was a fitting final chapter to a story that began well before their four-year varsity careers.
“We’ve known each other since fifth grade, and she really brought me into the sport. So if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,” an emotional Mitchell said of Dones.
From travel ball to middle school, then eventually starring as the only freshmen on a loaded Lady Jags team, Dones and Mitchell have endured the ups and downs of the sport together.
They were linked for Dones’ first high school home run, and for the Lady Jags’ come-from-behind, walk-off victory over Enloe during the 2018 state playoffs.
“We just created so many memories on the field — just having every game together,” Dones said
“And then you just really think about, it’s coming to an end and we’re going to be going different places.”
This year, the duo served as Overhills’ only upperclassmen and provided guidance for a youthful bunch.
“They’ve been vocal and hands-on, trying to show them (younger teammates) the ropes of how to be a consistent high school softball player,” first-year Lady Jags coach Harry Chubbs said.
“I can commend both Maaika and Liz for trying to be verbal leaders, as well as leading by example, while still being coached.”
Mitchell had a team-leading .397 batting average, and also paced her teammates in RBIs, while providing a steady glove behind the plate as the starting catcher.
Dones was an infielder and pitcher. She ended as the team’s second-leading hitter while posting the most extra-base hits. Defensively, she boasted a .925 fielding percentage and led the group with 24 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched.
The tandem helped Overhills win three of its first five games, but would remain winless for the rest of the slate after matching up with three conference teams, all of whom qualified for their respective postseason tournament this week.
“It’s kind of upsetting. Like, I wish we could have done better because last year we didn’t have a season. I wish it would have been a better outcome,” Mitchell said of the 3-7 overall finish.
Meanwhile, Dones was less concerned about the on-field success as she was about the lasting relationships formed in her final prep season.
“I just know that no matter what the record was this year, I had a great time with my players,” she said.
“I wish we had more games, but sometimes the cards don’t get played in our way. But I know I had fun,”
Playing just 10 contests in 2020-21, Dones and Mitchell conclude their respective high school stints having posted one of the best runs in school history.
They boast a combined 33-22 record with a pair of postseason appearances.
“I just wanted to leave a good legacy for myself here. I love this game so much – blood, tears, sweat ... countless hours out here practicing and trying to get better,” Dones said.
The versatile switch hitter will enroll at Army West Point in the fall where she intends to join the softball team as a walk-on.
Though Mitchell doesn’t anticipate playing at the next level, the longtime friends will still be together in spirit as they embark on new journeys apart.
“I just know she will always be my catcher at heart, and she’ll always be my teammate. We played almost every field together, so I know I’m gonna miss her. I know she’s gonna do great things when she goes to college,” Dones said.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040