But becoming an elite athlete requires more than just talent. It takes grit, determination and the ability to make big plays in the most critical moments.
That being said, Daniel Boone’s Cora Baker and Coeburn’s Hannah Light deserve the honor of being named the 2010 Times-News Elite softball co-players of the year.
The two senior aces each dominated inside the circle all year long. Baker set a school record with 29 wins and finished the season with a 0.45 ERA. Light sported a 0.20 ERA and finished her career third all-time in the VHSL with 1,087 strikeouts.
These numbers made Baker and Light great, but their performances in clutch situations made them elite.
Baker injured her ankle during the Eastman Invitational, but played through it to finish off a perfect game.
And once the postseason arrived, she raised her game in the circle and at the plate.
Baker came up with a walk-off hit against Seymour in the Region 1-AAA tournament to keep the Lady Trailblazers alive and hit a two-run homer against Jefferson County to lead Boone to a 2-0 win in the Region 1-AAA title game.
She went on to help the Lady Trailblazers to their first TSSAA state tournament appearance.
Meanwhile, Light was nearly untouchable all season long, but she saved her best for the postseason.
Light didn’t give up a hit during the Cumberland District tournament, walking just one batter. And once the competition heated up in the Region D tournament, Light put her endurance on display.
Powell Valley threw two pitchers at Coeburn in the semifinals, but Light never wavered. She went the distance in a 10-inning contest, striking out 20 batters en route to a 2-1 win.
Less than 24 hours later, Light went another 10 innings, striking out 14 batters as Coeburn vanquished Virginia High 5-1.
The Lady Blue Knights finally bowed out a five days later in the VHSL quarterfinals, but not before Light struck out 24 batters in 18 innings during a marathon loss to Holston.
The tenacity Baker and Light share can only be born from adversity. Early in their careers, both were told they weren’t good enough to be pitchers.
Light was 12 when she got the news. Baker faced a similar verdict when she had trouble retiring batters during JV games as a freshman.
Both responded by taking pitching lessons and working year-round while hoping for the day when they could prove their critics wrong.
That day has undoubtedly arrived.
Light has a spot in the VHSL record book and is headed to Mars Hill to continue her career. And Baker, the pitcher who once had trouble retiring JV hitters, has seen her No. 13 retired at Daniel Boone. She will continue her career at Walters State.
Hopefully you can understand why we didn’t try to break the tie between these two elite pitchers — neither one would have taken no for an answer.