Laney Waguespack and Kathryn Smith embraced on the field after their teams concluded a battle for the highest stakes.
Waguespack’s Copiah-Lincoln Wolves had defeated Smith’s Jones College Bobcats 7-0 in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II championship game, a victory that delivered Co-Lin its first national championship in any sport over the school’s history. Co-Lin needed to win three consecutive elimination games – all within 24 hours – to earn the crown after beginning the 16-team tournament as the fifth seed.
For Waguespack and Smith, it was a unique situation for another reason: the two were teammates and cornerstones of the Hahnville Tigers, Waguespack a force in the pitcher’s circle and Smith a prolific slugger.
This time, they were competitors. Their bond was nonetheless strong as ever post-game.
It was the final game of an extremely productive two-year career for Smith at Jones.
“I played with her for her last high school game and then against her in her last college game. It’s hard when it’s all over,” Waguespack said. “Kathryn Smith’s a really great athlete and softball player, and she left a legacy at Hahnville.”
Said Smith, “It was a great experience … of course, I’d rather have ended up on the winning side of it. But (Co-Lin) was a great team and it was awesome playing against Laney.”
Jones and Co-Lin faced off several times as conference rivals during the season and postseason, so the two had time to get acclimated to being on opposing sides. Smith said it took some getting used to.
“You want to support her, encourage her if she’s down because that’s what we’ve always done, but we’re on opposing teams,” Smith said. “I’ve always been on her side. So, it was a different experience, but every part of it was awesome.”
It made for some interesting strategy at times.
“You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Smith said. “At the regional tournament, she pitched against me. I know every single one of her pitches, and she knows what I can’t hit.”
“I know Kat is a big threat with that bat in her hand. She’s a really good hitter,” Waguespack said.
Co-Lin (49-10) got a complete game shutout from starting pitcher Belle West and a grand slam from Abby Grace Richardson to fell Jones on the final day of the season. That was the Wolves third game against Jones in two days, as a day earlier the two teams traded wins, with Jones winning early, 5-3, then Co-Lin answering back at night, 10-5.
A 10-3 victory over Des Moines CC kept the Wolves’ season alive as well – one in which Waguespack pitched two scoreless innings, called upon in an important spot as a freshman.
The Co-Lin coaching staff’s trust was earned during a debut season that saw Waguespack notch six wins and no losses to go along with three saves, a 2.94 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 47.2 innings pitched.
“I love Co-Lin … the people, the atmosphere, everything about it,” said Waguespack. “We were all going for it. We wanted to go for our coach, who had never been to nationals before, and we wanted to prove to everyone who we are.”
They did that, as did Waguespack on an individual level, making a fast adjustment to the college game. Her first appearance in a collegiate game came Feb. 5 against Baton Rouge CC, a two strikeout, scoreless inning. The first four appearances and nine total innings of her season saw her hold the competition without a run.
Ditto for the first appearance of her career against rival Jones. Waguespack entered that March 21 game with runners on second and third and got her team out of the jam. She went five scoreless innings the rest of the way and helped her team to a 3-2 victory.
“Playing at Hahnville helped me a lot,” Waguespack said. “We played in 5A and faced a lot of top-notch, really good teams with Division I commits. I think I was very prepared.
“(The March 21 game) gave me a lot of confidence. It let me know they trusted me in those pressure moments.”
Winning the championship, she said, was a function of a group of players and coaches completely pulling in the same direction.
“This entire team, I love it so much,” she said. “We play as one. We all support one another whether we’re playing or on the bench cheering for one another. I love being part of this.”
This season represented the start of Waguespack’s collegiate career. It brought Smith’s softball career at Jones to an end.
One of the most feared hitters in Hahnville history, Smith broke the Lady Tigers’ single season home run record in 2019 and then broke her own record in 2021.
Her skills translated immediately against college competition. She started all but four games at second base for Jones as a freshman and hit .264 with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs. As a sophomore she was even better, smashing 20 home runs to go with 56 RBIs, a .322 batting average and a .435 on-base percentage.
Like Waguespack, Smith gave a nod to her Lady Tiger roots for her seamless adjustment to the next level.
“We were set up very well for college ball. Lots of conditioning, lots of workouts, lots of hitting drills,” Smith said. “They said up front: this is how it’s gonna be in college. You have to be prepared for it.”
The Bobcats won the MACCC conference this season, setting up their run to the championship game.
Smith said with this being the final season for head coach Chris Robinson, the second-winningest coach in MACCC history, the team was especially driven to make a run.
“We all made an agreement – an unspoken agreement – that we were going to finish our season in Spartanburg,” Smith said. “We’re gonna give our time to this, lock in and see how far we can make it.”
Very far, as it turned out. Smith earned several individual accolades as well, including being named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Americans First Team and also earning Gold Glove honors from Rawlings for her defense at second base.