Unfinished business left for Franklin seniors
WLOS - Haeli Bryson's time in the circle for the Franklin Panthers softball team could not have started much worse. As a freshman, head coach Adam Tallent threw her to the wolves in the opening game of the 2015 season. The Panthers were on the road at Enka, a powerhouse at the time. The Sugar Jets rocked Bryson for fifteen runs en route to a run-rule victory. "She came back the rest of the season and had career numbers that other people would love to have," touted Talent three years later. Bryson led the Panthers to a 20-7 record that ended in a state quarterfinals loss to Forbush. The next two seasons Bryson spent less time pitching and more in the field, and the Panthers struggled to 21 wins over that period. For her senior year, Bryson took on the brunt of the work, starting more than half the teams games at pitcher. "You could just see the competitiveness she had in middle school," remarked Tallent. "She was a very smart player in middle school and on the mound she threw it very well."
That burning competitive fire has pushed Franklin to the verge of history. The team will play in the schools first state title series this weekend against South Granville. "It's something we've all dreamed of," said Bryson after practice on Wednesday. "You don't really think it could come true but now we're so close."
Franklin has won state championships outside of bat-and-ball sports. The football program won the 1976 state title and the school won eleven titles between cross country and track and field.
Bryson led the Panthers in batting average and home runs in each of her first three seasons. Her .522 BA in her senior season is, remarkably, the lowest of her career. However, as one of only two seniors on the FHS roster, Bryson's also made a large impact outside of the stat column. "Being able to lead the new people coming in [is] super fun, because they all have something a little different or weird about them that's fun to be around," she smiled.
That looseness is a hallmark of the 2018 Panthers. Practices are filled with laughter pierced by metal bat meeting ball and shouts of encouragement from the coaching staff. "To keep their attention and to get their attention is tough sometimes being a head coach," laughed Tallent. "That's what makes them a team. That's what makes them close as a team and their goofiness and they're having fun that's a good thing." There's the old saying that there can be too much of a good thing, but with Bryson on the lookout the Panthers won't be letting fun get in the way of their quest for a ring. "Everyone brings something a little different to the team, but we're all serious when we need to be," she said. "[We] still have fun even on the serious days."