Middleton's 500th win reflects AJ's will to battle

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By The Staff

The 2010 Andrew Jackson Lady Volunteers’ 14-14 softball season won’t go down as among the greatest at the Lancaster County Class AA high school.

The break-even mark reflects a spring of about as many ups as downs.

A Conference IV-AA runner-up finish and a Class AA Upper State playoff berth stand as a couple of notable 2010 team accomplishments in the tradition of AJ softball.

No doubt, the major achievement came during the Lady Vols’ recent postseason run.

AJ, in a do-or-die elimination game, rallied to present veteran coach Steve Middleton his 500th career win as a high school softball coach.

Middleton’s 28-year career includes stops at Buford (91 wins), Central of Pageland (120 wins), Kingstree (eight wins) and AJ (271 wins).

The coaching milestone seemed like it might have to wait to next season.

The Lady Vols missed out in a late regular-season Conference IV-AA home loss to Central of Pageland, the same school Middleton built into a Class AA power, in April when the 2010 league title was decided.

Then, in the playoffs, AJ dropped its opener to Gilbert at home to force the Lady Vols into a losers’ bracket elimination game against Palmetto High School.

The Williamston school held a seemingly safe 11-5 lead as AJ went to the bottom of the seventh inning where three outs stood between the Lady Vols going on with a comeback win, or going home for good this spring with a season-ending defeat.

The young Lady Vols team, which this season posted five comeback wins, rallied in the face of adversity.

The clincher came when Chelsea Holden drilled a triple to score two runs to tie the game at 11-all. Holden wasn’t at third long as she dashed home with the winning run on a wild pitch.

“This is a great way to get something to remember,” Middleton said. “Since I’ve been at AJ, we’ve had 11 elimination game situations at home and won them all, so our softball playoff tradition paid off for us. We never quit and kept believing.”

Middleton said the team’s legacy was its never-say-die attitude.

“We were a comeback team,” he said.

Down six runs and down to their final three outs, the Lady Vols kept plugging.

“This is how I will remember this team in that they never quit,” Middleton said. “If you coach long enough, you have seasons like this where you have your struggles, but they keep on battling and really make it special with a big win.”

Middleton said the extraordinary achievement is reached by a simple formula.

“It goes down to having good players and good parents,” he said. “I’ve found you have to have both to have your share of success and we’ve been fortunate there. This season was no exception.”

Middleton’s success includes two state championships at AJ (2006 and 2007) to go with 11 district titles and 17 region crowns.

He’s also had nine seasons of 20 or more wins.

The 2010 AJ girls didn’t reach that coveted 20-win plateau, but they were a team to battle to the end to make a special mark with their coach.

We salute them for never yielding in their quest to present their coach a real gem of a milestone.