LOCUST GROVE -- Somewhere at the bottom of the pile -- that wild, incredible pile of joy and wonderment that sprung onto the diamond and just took on a life of its own -- was Katie Lewis.
"I was at the bottom, and I didn't care. It was the best feeling ever,'' Lewis said. "Some were laughing. Some were crying...It was the best, the best feeling ever.''
That's what it felt like and tasted like for Darton's softball team, a group that had grown so close over the season that was fitting they would be in a jubilant dog-pile at the end, one player atop another in this moshpit of celebration.
Families should be this close.
That's what they said after winning the Region XVII Tournament on Sunday, a gutsy, nail-biting, 2-1, victory against Georgia Perimeter that gave Darton the state title and sends the Lady Cavaliers to the NJCAA College Softball World Series in Utah.
"We're a family,'' said Brittny Dennison, whose solo home run in the fourth gave the Lady Cavaliers a 2-1 lead they refused to give back. "To tell you the truth, we had more talent last year, but last year's team didn't have the chemistry or the mindset. This team is pretty special.
"When we won it we were all just hugging and laughing and crying and a little of everything,'' she said.
Just like a family.
Dennison, a Lee County grad who was The Herald's Player of the Year when she was in high school, said she had never hit a bigger home run, or a better one.
Once the ball sailed over the left field wall and Darton was up 2-1, coach David Dews, who has had two aces on the mound all year, went to Lewis.
"I knew what I had to do,'' she said. "I had to shut them down for three innings, and my teammates had my back.'
Lewis slammed the door on Perimeter and ended it with a strikeout.
Then pandemonium broke out on the diamond.
"I just ran to my first baseman Brook Tomlin, because she was the closet one to me,'' said Lewis, who allowed just two hits. "We we hugging and laughing for joy. Then everyone came running and started piling on.
"I've never had a feeling like that before,'' she said. "In high school I always wanted to win a state title, but never did, but this is even better because we are a family, and that's what makes this so special. We're family and this is the best feeling ever.''
The Darton family is the reason Dennison was in the lineup. She wasn't going to play this season because of a torn labrum in her right arm, her throwing arm. The plan was to have surgery and sit out a year.
"I changed my mind and put off the surgery because I just knew this was going to be a special season,'' Dennison said. "I'm glad I did.''
The surgery was scheduled for Wednesday, but now that Darton is headed to Utah with a chance to win a national title, that will have to wait.
"I'm a sophomore and I'm going to Georgia Southwestern next year,'' Dennison said. "It takes six-to-eight months to recover, so if I had surgery on Wednesday I could be ready by next January.''
But GSW coach Eddie Ward showed up for the Region XVII Tournament this weekend.
"He came by the hotel after Saturday's game, and told me to put off the surgery because if we went to the World Series. He said I might never get a chance like this again.''
Tell the surgeon to wait, Dennison and her Darton family are headed for Utah, and they will show up with a 47-9 record.
"I think we've got as good a chance as anyone,'' said Dews, who is taking his second team to the College Softball World Series in four years. "I think our pitching is a little better on this team than the one we had two years ago.''
Cara Law, who started the title game Sunday, and Lewis have been lights out all year, and give Darton a 1-2 punch on the mound. That combo was more than enough on Sunday as two runs was just enough to win it all.
Darton scored in the third when Tomlin ripped an RBI single to center to bring in Jordan Cole, who reached on a fielder's choice and moved to second on Chantelle Curinton's single.
Then came Dennison's eighth homer of the year, a two-out, two-strike shot to left that sailed just far enough to land Darton in Utah.
"I didn't now it was a home run until I got to second base,'' Dennison said. "I was at second when I saw my third base coach (Sam White) and heard the crowd yelling. That's when I knew it was a home run.''
But Dennison knew this team was one for the ages long before that, back before the season started when all they had was hope and each other. That's still what they have at Darton, where the family still has each other and the hope is moving on to Utah and the World Series and a chance at a national title.
"I'm excited and I'm nervous,'' Lewis said about the prospect of winning a national title. "We all stuck together to get this far. When we were in the pile and we all laughing and crying, I was at the bottom of the pile, thinking all of our hard work had paid off.
"We still have one more thing to accomplish..."