FRENCHTOWN – It’s a coach’s dream. An ice cold Gatorade bath after your team wins a championship. For Florence softball coach Rob Ralls, that dream came true, for a fourth time in six years, and on his birthday.
“There’s not too many coaches in America that got a state championship on their birthday,” Ralls said, soaking wet after his water cooler bath. “It’s pretty special. This group of girls have been special all year.”
On Saturday, the Falcons concluded the class B/C softball season on top, defeating Libby 9-3 in the state title game. The nine runs of support were plenty for junior pitcher Brianna Hoffman, who moved to Florence from Oregon last summer, and struck out 11 Loggers in the title game.
“Moving here has been amazing. And the girls here are amazing, and the fact that we have a chance to win a state championship title, it’s still unreal to feel,” said Hoffman, who struck out 35 batters in 21 innings of the state tournament. “But this team is now my family. And this team has put so much effort into me, and the coaches really care about each player. That’s a big part for me.”
“I told everyone it was my early Christmas present this year, and I meant it,” added Ralls when he became aware Hoffman was joining his team. “We knew after last year getting third at state that we were going to be pretty good this year, and then just to add another pitcher to the mix was just pretty special.”
“Oh, she fit in right away,” added sophomore shortstop Shannon Byrne. “Our team is so welcoming, and we all welcomed her with open arms, and she became one of us super quick. And so she definitely helps a lot. She’s such a good support that we have, so she’s definitely a big part of our team.”
Only one of the Falcons’ runs were driven in by a senior, as Florence continued displaying its young talent. Sophomores Byrne and Natalie Dulac combined for six RBI’s, including the eventual game-winning run. While the team wasn’t thinking much about next season, they do realize how bright the future can be.
“I think this is a big eye-opener for us on what we’re capable of, so we definitely have to keep working hard and see what happens,” said Byrne, who was a middle-schooler while watching her sisters win state titles with Florence. “But I think now that we have this under our belt, we’re going to work even harder next year, and we’ll be capable of great things.”
“It’s going to be a little different and unreal feeling again,” said Hoffman. “But I think after a while, you’ll think, ‘This is why we did this, and this is what happened, and we can do this again, and let’s push through it and see what you can do more.’”
Florence only loses two seniors — Chloe Arthur and Kali Leibenguth. With players like Byrne and Hoffman returning along with four more juniors, the Falcons could be in line for an unprecedented fifth state title in seven years.