By Kyle Daubs
It’ll be business as usual come Tuesday.
With a loss to 3-15 Taylorville highly unlikely, the Apollo Conference title is within reach for Charleston softball.
The Trojans (22-3, 6-0 in Apollo) just need to win Tuesday’s opener to secure the conference title outright. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday before rain forced the change.
For a team with just three seniors in Reagan McGahey, Ashlyn McPeak, and Ava Stephens, it would be the perfect dessert to what has been an amazing main course of a regular season.
“It’s been a rough and very odd year,” said Stephens. “I am beyond blessed to have a full season. Finishing it off by winning the Apollo Conference would be icing on the cake for us. My team has worked very hard for this and has stepped up.”
McGahey (SIU), McPeak (Danville Community College), and Stephens (Lake Land College) are not your ordinary upperclassmen. All three committed to continuing their softball careers and were an integral part of a CHS run that has produced some of the best records in school history.
However, even with as good as the team has been with its three seniors, McPeak has seen a group of 12 freshman and sophomores grow into key contributors for a competitive team.
“Coach Mayhall says to focus on one game at a time and not look ahead too much,” said McPeak. “Every game we have, people that step up to do what needs to be done to win. We’ve come together as a team a lot this year at key moments which has helped us be successful. The three seniors have shown leadership this year, along with the underclass stepping up each game and contributing to the team, day in and day out.”
With such an age gap, it’s not unusual for seniors and freshmen to not be the best of friends.
That wasn’t an option for this team, though, especially with zero juniors on the roster.
“I believe my team is dominant because we have really good chemistry and we play well off of each other’s strengths,” said Stephens. “We have all played this game for years and continue to play as a team.”
If Charleston can win the Apollo, it would be the first time since 2018 and just the second time since 1994. Taylorville is 0-6 in conference play and has lost 14 of their last 15 games.
“I’m excited for the girls and their opportunity to take the conference title,” said CHS coach Blain Mayhall. “That is something they wanted to accomplish, and they have put themselves in this position with their play this year. It would mean a lot to the seniors. They had their season taken from them last year. They know what we could have done last season and they brought that same fire into this season. They have stepped up as leaders of this young squad, and I couldn’t be more proud of them for that. This is just a small part of what they set out to accomplish, and I am excited for them to have that opportunity.”
Even though nobody had a season last year, Charleston might have gone deep into the postseason with a team that had several other players who signed to play softball in college.
“Winning the conference would mean so much to me since we didn’t get to have a season last year,” said McPeak. “We were going to have such a strong team so I’m glad this year we get the chance to show what we didn’t get to (do) last year.”
So far, Charleston has lived up to expectations. Even though the team featured a large underclass, Apollo coaches viewed CHS as the favorite to win the title.
“The rest of the crew has done a wonderful job of contributing to the team’s success,” said Mayhall. “I’m extremely proud of how they have stepped up and helped this team win. I’ve known for years that they are very capable of being successful on and off the field. High expectations have been placed on them, and they have risen to those in a big way. But, it starts with the leadership from our three seniors to have their teammates back during adverse times. It’s fun to watch how they have come together as a team.”