TAMPA, Fla. - The spoils of victory sometimes include posing for photos.
“I was at a loss for words on what this team accomplished and how hard they worked,” Academy of the Holy Names softball head coach Jeff Krone said. “Just now starting to feel good and getting the accolades for it.”
These Academy of the Holy Names Jaguars made history, winning the school’s first softball state championship.
“I think we’re all on cloud nine,” assistant coach Michael Valdes said. “I think nobody wants to see this end. We want to go back and do it all over again.”
If only we could all go back in time. The Jags certainly would love repeat that win. And perhaps not have to deal with a tragic loss.
On March 17, in the middle of the Jaguars season, Nick Petrarca unexpectedly passed away. The father of lead-off hitter Rachel and her younger sister Camille was such a presence at games and then suddenly he was gone.
“My dad is just the ultimate family guy,” Jaguars senior Rachael Petrarca said. “So obviously, he loves watching me and my younger sister play.”
Nick was a fixture in the stands, until he wasn’t.
“I would see him all the time,” Rachael said. “Like, I’d be on base and I’d look and I’d think I’d see him. And it would be like somebody else’s dad.”
“It was a devastating loss,” Kone said. “It was a real shock and we really didn’t know how the team was going to react.”
Something magical happened to the team after Nick passed away. The Jags went on a winning streak that culminated in the state title. 14-straight wins ending with a dramatic walkoff victory in the championship game.
“We had a guardian angel on our shoulder with Nick,” Krone said.
“He would have loved it,” freshman Camille Petrarca said. “I think that’s all I kept on thinking about. I remember looking up and that’s just all I thought and I was like, oh my gosh, and the tears just started coming.”
The team rallied around their broken-hearted teammates. That’s what sisters do. They look out for each other.
“I’ve coached for the last 15 years and I’ve never seen a team come together like they came together,” Krone said.
Rachael will leave for college later this summer. She’s heading to Providence where she will continue playing softball. That sport is the one constant in her life. And she won’t stop looking in the stands for her No. 1 fan.
“I don’t think I ever will,” she said. “He’s been there my whole life, so …”