The old saying is not entirely correct. Coming close does count in more than just horseshoes.

The old saying is not entirely correct.

Coming close does count in more than just horseshoes.

It counts in sports, too. It counts for a lot, for a lot of different reasons.

With that in mind, we present to you the Manchester High School softball team, which, in just about every way, shape and form, had it all without winning it all this season.

The Panthers made it all the way to the Division III state tournament semifinals before losing 4-0 to Bloom-Carroll at Firestone Stadium in Akron.

There is no disgrace in getting to within two victories of capturing a state championship, and to within one victory of playing for a state crown. That’s outstanding.

So was the team’s final record of 20-9.

The Panthers, also, were not without their signature moments in the postseason. Down to their last strike, they rallied to edge Independence 2-1 in the Massillon regional tournament championship game on a two-run single by senior Courtney Roth. That earned them a trip to the state semifinals.

In the Creston Division III District title contest, they rolled to a 14-3 triumph over Tuslaw, a team with which they split the two games in Principals Athletic Conference play during the regular season. The Panthers failed to win the league championship, but didn’t let that keep them from almost winning a state title.

Facing maybe the most difficult regular-season schedule in the program’s history, suffering injuries to key players and encountering some hiccups in trying to mesh together as one, the Panthers had their struggles. They were up and down, looking good one day and then taking a step backward the next. It was hardly smooth sailing. Eventually, the Panthers had boxed themselves into a corner, with not a lot of room for error.

But in trying times, good programs find a way to succeed.

Softball is one of the sports at Manchester that has done well from the get-go. The Panthers have one of the best small-school programs in this region. They have won three state titles (1979, 1990 and 2001). This year marked Manchester’s first trip to the state in which it did not end up taking home the championship.

The head coach, Jim Morehart – a star fullback for iconic Manchester head football coach Swede Olsson 45 years ago – figured out the team’s problems and worked to fix them. The players – mostly seniors and sophomores – bought into the changes and corrections that Morehart implemented.

That’s not easy. The coach and the players have to be on the same page.  Everybody has to check their ego at the door for the good of the team.

Nobody wants to be the group that drops the baton of tradition. The Panthers finally got hold of it and held it tightly through the last part of the regular season and throughout the tournament.

They got back to playing Manchester softball.

What these Manchester players did in rescuing their season and making it special will serve them well in life. It will give them the mind-set that no matter how difficult a situation may seem, it can work out in the end if no one panics and everyone stays committed to the end.

In doing all that, then, the Panthers left their mark. Although they didn’t win the state title, they came oh, so close to doing so. In doing so, they learned a lot about themselves and teamwork.

They made it a season to remember in a very positive way, which, when you get right down to it, is what high school sports is all about.