It was a storybook ending, not for a princess, but for a queen.
That queen, Rose Bud senior Joley Mitchell, had watched her team’s 4-0 lead evaporate to 4-3 in the top of the fourth inning against Genoa Central in the finals of the 3A state softball tournament on May 20 at Bogle Park on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.
Coming off a disappointing end to her junior campaign in which Haskell Harmony Grove won the state title, 4-2, in extra innings, the 2018 Maxpreps.com National Junior Player of the Year wasn’t going to let disappointment end her stellar career with the Ramblers.
With teammate Briley Chandler on second with one-out, Mitchell took the 2-1 offering from Genoa Central’s Raegan Keith and smashed it over the left-field fence to give Rose Bud a 6-3 advantage and snatch the momentum back from the Dragons. Mitchell and the Ramblers would go on to slay the Dragons, 7-3, for the title.
“I’ll always have a little sting from last year,” Mitchell said, “but finishing strong is just the way it’s supposed to be.”
But what would a great story be without a plot twist?
That twist? The home run by Mitchell set the state record for most home runs in a career with 58 passing Pangburn’s Tylar Vernon, a mark Vernon set last season.
As strong as Mitchell as been during her prep career for coach Scotty Starkey’s Ramblers, earning all-state honors all four seasons and being named the 2019 Wendy’s Arkansas High School Softball Player of the Year last week, she had a moment of weakness as she started to the round bases after her record-setting home run. She began to cry.
“Oh my lord, as soon as I stepped on first base, I am getting emotional right now talking about it, as soon as I stepped on first base, I was like, ‘I’ve worked hours and hours with my dad’,” Mitchell said after the game as she fought off the emotions of her achievement and her father, Skip. “He really cares about the outcome and it obviously pays off, and I am really thankful for that.”
Teams have been pitching around Mitchell all season, including a first-round regional tournament contest against Waldron where she homered on the first pitch she saw and was intentionally walked four times after.
So what was she thinking on that at-bat?
“I was just trying to be ready,” Mitchell said. “Usually it’s just like an intentional walk thing, but I wasn’t trying to think that all. I was just trying to think if she throws you a good one that you need to attack, just take it.”
And attack she did, sending it over the left-field fence.
“I am pretty sure I looked like an idiot going around the bases, I didn’t care,” Mitchell said. “I was just really happy that I had finally done it.”
Her coach was happy that she was able to set the record in the state title game.
“That’s pretty cool,” Starkey said. “I thought they would pitch to her (in that situation), I really did. Her second at-bat, she kind off hit the end of it, and I’m like, ‘Well she is going to have one, maybe two more chances.’ She sat back and got hold of it. What better place to do it, the state championship game, to break the all-time home run record.”
Fast-pitch softball has only been around for two decades on the high school level in the state of Arkansas, but it would be hard to argue that Mitchell isn’t the best hitter the state has produced.
The career home run record is just one of many state marks that Mitchell set.
She also leaves Rose Bud with single season records in home runs (24), hits (76), runs scored (85), slugging percentage (1.658), as well as the career record in runs scored (281). Her name also sits near the top of every other offensive category in both single season and career.
As a team Rose Bud set numerous state records that Mitchell was an integral part of including wins in a season (35) and shattering the runs with 436 runs scored this season, better the mark by 68 set by Bauxite in 2017.
“Words can’t even describe what she’s meant (to the program),” Starkey said. “Since her freshman year, even her seventh-and eighth-grade years you could just tell that kid’s special. She’s huge on campus. She has a lot of girls that look up to her.
The Ramblers went 123-16 during her four seasons and played for the state title all four seasons, including winning the crown in 2017.
Mitchell was one of three seniors on the squad, joining teammates Gracie Hartle and Hailey Vaughn.
“Those seniors, it’s crazy those young girls look up to her (Mitchell) and all of them,” Starkey said. “Oh man, it’s going to be tough making a line-up next year without them three in it, but hopefully we have some come out and step up, and let’s do this again next year.”
While the Starkey and the Ramblers will look to repeat as state champions in 2020, Mitchell will head up north to do battle with the Irish, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
“We are so excited to have Joley at Notre Dame,” Irish coach Deanna Gumpf said. “She is a leader and a dynamic player. I’m so proud of all she has accomplished in high school and can’t wait to see what she does in her four years at Notre Dame.”
While Mitchell will matriculate into Notre Dame as the highest ranked position player to sign with the Irish, she has some unfinished business to attend to.
“I have a whole season of summer ball,” Mitchell said. “We are a close knit team too (just like the one at Rose Bud). Finishing strong here and finishing strong there will make me want to be stronger at Notre Dame just because the competition is going to go up.”