By Terry Cregar
GREENVILLE — A team of softball all-stars from South Carolina finished third in a national World Series, and a trio of Catholic girls played key roles in the team’s success.
Lauren Hawkins and sisters Kelly and Kristin Eppinger were picked this summer to represent the state in the Belles Division of the Dixie Softball World Series.
The girls played for the Mauldin Recreation Department’s Dixie Softball team and were named to the department’s all-star team, which won the state championship.
The victory earned them a trip to the World Series in Eufaula, Ala.
The team won three games in the double-elimination tournament held the first week in August. They lost to the two teams that ultimately faced each other in the championship game.
“We finished third, but we should have won,” said freshman Kelly Eppinger. “We’ll win next year.”
The S.C. team also won the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award.
Kristin kept the team alive early in the battle for the Series’ trophy. With a runner on second in the 14th inning of the team’s opening game against a team from Mississippi, Kristin laid down a bunt, allowing the runner on second base to score the winning run.
Lauren, who made her third trip to the World Series this year, also pitched more than five innings of scoreless ball in that game, said their coach, John Peoples. Kelly threw out a runner at home plate from her centerfield position to keep the score tied.
The 14-inning game, which they won 7-6, set a record for the longest game in Dixie Softball World Series history.
The team went on to beat the host team from Eufaula and a team from Florida before losing to Titus County, Texas, and Halifax, Va., the eventual series champion.
The players and their families are parishioners at St. Mary Magdalene in Simpsonville. They’ve been friends since meeting on the ballfield four years ago, and together they have more than 25 years of softball experience.
Kelly and Kristin’s mother, Barbara, said her daughters have been playing organized softball since grade school, including three years when the family lived in England, where the game isn’t as popular as it is in the states.
Both Mrs. Eppinger and Lauren’s mother, Dawn, said softball was a sport their daughters always showed an interest in.
Mrs. Hawkins said she and Lauren have enjoyed having Catholic friends to share her softball experience with.
“Being from this part of the country, there haven’t been many opportunities in the past where Catholic friends can play and watch the games together,” she said.
The girls also play on the St. Joseph’s High School team, which is coached by Peoples.
“We finished 4-6 this year,” he said.
Peoples has coached the girls in the recreation league for the past four years, and he is heading into his third year as coach of the St. Joseph’s Lady Knights.
“All three girls really grew this year into some really good softball players,” Peoples said. “Kelly led the recreation team in batting average, and Kristin was second.”
Peoples said this summer’s competition against some of the best teams in the country, along with the arrival of ninth-graders Lauren and Kelly, should translate into improvement for the Lady Knights next spring.
“They all have the skills to play at this level,” he said.
Each girl said they would like another chance at next summer’s World Series.
“(Virginia) is good, but we’re going to beat them next year,” Kelly said.