It was no mere coincidence that the Highland Lady Rebels' first-ever trip to the Class 4A State Softball Tournament finals came less than 24 hours after commencement ceremonies were held at HHS the evening of May 16.
For you see, just like the class of 2008, the Highland Lady Rebels softball program has passed all its required studies, made the grades and has also graduated.
Graduated from a program learning the basics of reading and writing (pitching and hitting) to the more advanced stages of math and social studies (fielding and base stealing), to finally, physics and algebra (finding the cut-off and hitting behind a baserunner).
Though they certainly would have preferred the outcome of the 4A finals against Ashdown to be reversed, just like the graduating class of 2008, these Lady Rebels have plenty to be proud of.
The Highland fast pitch softball program, under the guidance of head coach Rebecca Rider over the course of the last half-decade, has evolved from one content to take baby steps, to one that is now feared in the 3-4A Conference and beyond.
And the way it looks, things may just be getting interesting for the Lady Rebels.
Although they will be without the services of three invaluable seniors next year, the Lady Rebs should be stocked to the gill with both talent and experience for a shot at returning to the Lady 'Back Yard in Fayetteville in 2009.
It would be next to impossible to put a price tag on what Whitney Crook, Natalie Culver and Samantha McNulty, all seniors, meant to the Lady Rebel softball program over the past four seasons.
They were all part of the softball squads at Highland that went from just hoping to win, to a squad that not only expected to win, but one that did more times than not.
Consider that the Lady Rebels racked up 27 wins this year, and was untouchable in the 3-4A, sporting a perfect 10-0 mark in conference play for the first time in school history. Highland then went and captured its first regional crown and earned a ticket to the state playoffs for the first time.
Not too bad.
Even though the trio of big-time seniors will be absent next time around, the Lady Rebs figure to have plenty of pieces left to build around.
Fireballing junior pitcher Karisa Hendrix, a starter since her freshman year, will be back to terrorize opposing batters next year, as will her battery mate, savy catcher Jessica Sellers.
Stephanie Shaw, Kristen Ellis, Alison Price, Murphy Williams, Katheryn Bobo and Courtney Sharp, all key components of this year's team that knocked off DeWitt and Heber Springs in the state tourney, will be geared up for more of the same in 2009.
After all, the Lady Rebels' group of juniors this year played more like seniors when the chips were down.
Consider that Hendrix threw a no-hitter, striking out 14, against DeWitt in the quarterfinals of the state tourney. She followed that impressive performance by giving up just a pair of hits while racking up 12 Ks in the semis against Heber Springs. The same Heber Springs team that had faced Hendrix four previous times this year. And they still did not have an answer for Highland's ace.
Ellis gunned down the go-ahead run in the eighth inning against Heber Springs, throwing an on-the-money strike from her spot in center to Sellers behind the dish.
And, oh yeah, Bobo also turned up when needed, as she was responsible for the game-winning hit against Heber Springs, a single in the bottom of the eighth that plated Hendrix.
So, athough this Lady Rebel softball team has walked down the aisle and received its diploma, don't expect it to leave the area in search of greener pastures right away.
Unless those greener pastures end up being in Lady 'Back Yard in Fayetteville in say, May of 2009.