VERO BEACH — Mary Beth Feldman sees the field in narrow focus. The softball. The catcher’s mitt. The space between.
Staring straight ahead, the Newsome High pitcher winds up in windmill fashion before firing a pitch. Opposing batters are usually left flailing away.
This single-minded pursuit of perfection is a big reason the Wolves were able to play in Friday’s Class 9A state title game at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex. It was the program’s first championship appearance since winning it all in 2015.
The quest for another title ended, though, with a 3-2 eight-inning loss to Lake Worth Park Vista.
Some of Feldman’s goals were not related to wins. The game had been inextricably tied to pain and loss in the the past year.
Feldman still struggles to hold back the flood of memories from Jan. 5. That was the day her mother, Christine, died suddenly from complications with diabetes.
Feldman did not have much time to grieve. Her mother died weeks before softball tryouts. She gave little thought to suspending her senior season. The repetitive act of throwing a softball allowed the memory of her mother to sink somewhere deep into her subconscious.
The decision to go on was not just for rah-rah reasons, but also because softball is what defines her.
Playing the sport has been a family affair for more than a decade. Mary Beth and her older sister, Claire, pitched. Their father, Greg, coached. Christine worked behind the scenes.
They were together, for Little League, travel ball and high school softball. Four years ago, Mary Beth was in the stands with her mother and father to watch Claire win Newsome’s first state title.
Mary Beth wanted to join her sister as a state champion. Twice in the past three seasons, the Wolves came within a game of reaching the state semifinals.
This season, Mary Beth was down to her final shot.
Then came the death of her mother.
The Newsome players — and the Lithia softball community — rallied around her. The initials of Mary Beth’s mother, CF, were printed on shirts and displayed throughout the town.
Before the season, Wolves players each came with motivational sayings that hung in the dugout. They all adopted the slogan: “Play for something bigger.”
They were playing for Christine, who was honored at every home game.
“The support from everyone has been incredible,” said Greg Feldman, a Newsome assistant the past three seasons.
“What the family went through is very tough. But for Mary Beth, softball has been the easy part. She stayed focused through everything.”
Mary Beth was dominant, winning 13 of her 15 starts entering Friday’s final. She also had pitched four straight shutouts, including Thursday’s 13-0 semifinal win over Coral Gables.
There were plenty of family members in the stands for Friday’s championship, including Claire (who just finished her redshirt sophomore season at Utah) and younger sister Olivia.
The Wolves’ offense helped Mary Beth early in Friday’s final. Jada Smallwood had a sacrifice fly to score Bailee Leistl, and Jadeyn Ruszkowski followed by singling in Lindsey Harper for a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Park Vista answered with two runs in the fifth to tie the score, ending Mary Beth’s shutout streak. The teams continued to keep each other off the scoreboard.
Newsome had several spectacular plays in the field. Lydia Castro, the team’s catcher, dove to snag a few popups. Leah Zatkiewicz corralled a grounder and made a stellar throw to Ruszkowski, who stretched out at first base to get a runner out.
On offense, Leistl did her part, going 2-for-3 with a run scored.
And Mary Beth stayed focused as she continued to fire away. The Utah signee allowed eight hits and finished with six strikeouts.
In the eighth inning, the Cobras broke the tie.
That was enough.
“I can’t say enough about Mary Beth and everything that she’s been able to accomplish with what she’s been through,” said Wolves interim coach Ally Ledenham.
Afterward, Greg hugged Mary Beth before kissing her on the head.
“These are the kind that are fun when you win and horrible when you lose,” he said. “Mary Beth had big strikeouts. Big moments. They all played great. Pride cannot even describe how I feel about them.”
Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected]. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.