Times Sports Editor
Only one team in the history of Northview High School has played for a state championship and that team will be recognized Saturday afternoon.
The 1995 Northview softball team that finished as the state's runner-up, will be honored this weekend during the Knights' contest against Turkey Run. The junior varsity contest will be at 10 a.m., and will be followed by the introduction of the 1995 team and the dedication of a plaque commemorating their accomplishments. The varsity game against the Warriors will follow. There will also be a dinner for the 1995 team and their families in the cafeteria following the varsity game.
The 1995 "Pumpkin Express" as they were affectionately nicknamed, was a team of uncommon focus and determination.
"They were motivated, had a toughness about them that you can only hope that somewhere in their career they have instilled in them," head coach Jan Gambill said of the team. "No one was a hero, they shared that 10 ways. I have not been around a team that was so focused that when they got off a bus, they could intimidate the opponent. They were even more imposing in their warm-up. They walked a fine line between confidence and cockiness."
The team that fell in the 1994 Boonville Semistate, rebounded to post a 23-2 overall mark on the way to a berth in the state title game against top-ranked Center Grove. Though the Knights fell to the Trojans by a 10-3 score, that Northview squad was buoyed by tremendous community support and overwhelming talent.
"The newspaper was great in promoting the Pumpkin Express. Businesses sponsored a flyer for the team, allowed their windows to have pumpkins in the middle of June. The night of the bonfire was great for the fans, players and parents," Gambill said. "The most memorable moments on many team questionnaires dealt with looking into the stands and seeing them filled with their people as well as the caravan to the finals and the lined streets upon their return. It was for them and they were overwhelmed."
The Pumpkin Express moniker was born out of an Alvin and the Chipmunks song during the 1994 season. Gambill, who often used Dr. Seuss, Disney stories and Mother Goose as sources for various themes during her coaching career, chose the song in reference to her team believing that they could reach the highest of goals and win a championship.
"During the 1993 season, the coaching staff knew that the potential was there to take the program to a new level," Gambill said. "We needed the girls to 'believe' in themselves, their teammates and their coaches. If they fully believed in themselves, they would work harder to achieve those individual and team goals. They talked a good game but they had to learn to be accountable to themselves and to each other if they wanted to win the sectional and more."
Believing in oneself was a central theme in the song that included the line, "You gotta believe in pumpkins if you want to go to the ball. Don't stop yourself from having a little, and you can have it all."
The Knights began the 1995 season with a talented roster, studded with collegiate talent.
Senior Jamie Cowell, sophomore Jenny Calandrilla, junior Cari Cook and junior Kelsey White all went on to compete collegiately at Rend Lake Junior College before completing their careers at Southeast Missouri State at the Division I level. Both Cowell and Calandrilla are enshrined in Rend Lake's Hall of Fame.
"One doesn't have the opportunity to coach this many potential collegiate athletes on one team," Gambill said. "Those four went on to play while a couple of others received offers but chose not to continue their careers at the next level. They were all consistent in the field and at bat but more importantly had the qualities of desire, determination, and work ethic."
What made the run even more impressive is that there was no class separation in the 1995 postseason, which meant that school's faced the best the state had to offer regardless of enrollment figures.
Northview had won 20 straight games following a loss during the regular season to Shakamak in the third-game of the season. From that point on however, the Knights marched through the regular season unbeaten into the West Vigo Sectional. The Knights started the postseason by beating the host Vikings, 9-0 and claimed the sectional title with a 7-2 win over Terre Haute North. At the Rockville Regional, the Knights won 6-2 against Greencastle and 9-2 over Seeger to reach the Boonville Semi-state once more.
The 1995 season was about redemption this time around after a loss in the same semi-state the year before.
Northview rallied to sink Floyd Central 4-2 in the early game before advancing to the Final Four with a 6-0 defeat of the Lakers.
The Knights' senior class was led by pitcher Laura Hayes, who posted a 0.41 ERA while going 21-1 heading into the state semi-finals against second-ranked Lake Central. Cowell was a powerful hitter that led the state in home runs with 13 while hitting .443 with 31 RBI as the lynch pin of an offense that scored 8.6 runs per game. Fellow senior Christy Geise hit .247 with 24 runs scored and Jamie Pell was also an integral part of the senior leaders.
The junior class included Cook, who was hitting .338, Tia Girton, White, who was a .250 hitter with 16 RBI and Ramey Parker, also a .250 hitter, who had driven in 16. The sophomore class included current Northview softball head coach, Bethany Buell, who hit .290 with 17 RBI. Calandrilla was also a slugging sophomore with a .441 average with eight doubles, 25 RBI and a pair of homeruns. Talitha Bailey was hitting a robust .426 with two home runs and 28 RBI. The sophomore class also included Deana Clingerman, Monica Robertson and Amy Moody. Freshmen on the squad included April Moore, Christie Bedwell, Mandy Lambermont and Niki Hale.
The Knights faced a sizable task against Lake Central, a team led by Tom Linger, in his 11th season with the Indians. Linger and Lake Central were no strangers to the state finals with 1995 being the team's third berth under his leadership and won a state championship in 1992.
In the semifinal, the Knights' offense was held in check, scoring just one run on two hits. However, it was Hayes that stepped up along with the Northview defense, which stopped the powerful Lake Central offense in a 1-0, two-hit shutout.
The Knights' run came in the second inning as sophomore catcher Talitha Bailey reached as her sharp grounder was deep into the hole between the third baseman and shortstop. Calandrilla then hit a fielder's choice that was mishandled allowing both runners to reach base safely. Bethany Buell, Northview's current head softball coach, then advanced both runners with a groundout. Junior Ramey Parker then hit an RBI groundout to score the lone run of the contest.
"The Knights were at the state for a purpose -- to win. We made the ball and now we wanted the glass slipper," Gambill said of the team's desire for a title. "This team was focused, they were positive not critical when a miscue took place, and determined to hold the lead."
Hayes was able to keep the Indians off the scoreboard, striking out eight and allowing no walks, outdueling Lake Central's all-state pitcher, Leslie Rossa. Lake Central bowed out with a 29-5 season mark and the win propelled Northview into the state title game against the No. 1 ranked Trojans of Center Grove, a 3-2 winner against Shenandoah in the other semi-final.
"Laura was not a strikeout pitcher, nor was she going to over power the batters. She was consistent in moving the ball around the strike zone and had a great drop ball that led to many ground balls," Gambill said of Hayes. "She would do her job and trust that her fielders would do likewise. She never got down on her fielders and should she walk a player they did not get down on her. Laura's ability to move the ball messed with the batters heads."
In the championship game that evening, the Knights jumped out front 1-0 on a single by Geise, a sacrifice bunt by Cook and a double by Cowell gave Northview a lead.
However, the No. 1 Trojans tied the score in the third and a potential double play that wasn't, left the door open for Center Grove, which tallied six runs in the inning. The outburst was enough to sideline the Pumpkin Express, despite a 10-hit attack against an unbeaten Trojan pitcher, who had an ERA of 0.82.
Hayes received the Mental Attitude Award following the game.
Despite the loss in the title game, the team held its heads high after the remarkable run by a school that didn't have the softball pedigree of the other programs in the finals, but did itself and the community proud.
"This team had a chemistry that is hard to explain and will be hard to duplicate. Many had played together for several years as young kids growing up. The coaches and parents had taught these girls fundamentals and the how and whys of the game. They totally understood the game," Gambill said. "They were selfless, determined and demanded a lot of each other. They were willing to sacrifice even if it meant a position they wanted to play so that we could put the best team possible on the field. They were hard workers and genuinely cared about each other. The parents played a major role with this team. It was a family affair with the support system unbelievable. That is why on Saturday we asked that the team members bring their parents with them, we were all living this together."