Spartanburg Sports Report

Birch brings stellar career to fitting end

Photo By Pete Cochran

Parker Birch’s 163rd and final game as a Byrnes Rebel ended with the shortstop face down in the dirt in front of second base.

There’s nowhere she’d rather have been.

She had the final out of the 5A state championship softball series snowconed snugly in the web of her glove. Just like that, Birch – the team’s only senior; the calming, steadying influence for her teammates, the outstanding player and polished young lady her younger teammates jokingly call “grandma” – had earned herself another piece of jewelry.

“Everybody was saying ‘Parker, we feel like it’s coming to you,'” she said. “I was ready to go either way.”

Ready to go either way. Year after year, that was Parker Birch. She led off, she cleaned up, and she hit nearly everywhere else in the lineup. She was a defensive stalwart, and was thought of so highly by her coach and the seniors who went before her that she was awarded what’s come to be Byrnes’ “captain number”. Jersey 24 originated with Breezy Hamilton, passed on to Lauren Duggar, and for the past two seasons has been worn by Birch. That numeral is stenciled on the grass at the Rebels’ home field just behind the shortstop’s position. It was the only number recognized on senior night, and Birch took the mantle of senior leadership seriously this season.

“We struggled in the beginning, but in the end we clicked, and it showed on the field,” she said.

“I think sometimes it was a struggle for her, and she didn’t have her normal year at the plate,” Byrnes coach Brandi Aiken said of Birch’s leadership role. “But nobody’s worked harder than her. She was the last one to leave the field the other night. We talked about it halfway through the year. She felt the need to take care of them, clean up after them, hold them accountable. In the past there have been at least two or three, somebody to share that load. I think carrying it all affected her ability to be loose at the plate and enjoy the game. But about midseason those juniors really stepped up and took some off of her, and I think that helped her.”

Birch said she was proud to see the team grow, and succeed, but was even happier to see the bond that had been built.

“Of course I’m proud of that, but it’s more than that,” she said, fighting tears. “It’s getting to know all my teammates, my second family. That’s what’s hard about this. You realize that you’re leaving them, but leaving like this is one of the best moments in the world.”

That concern for her teammates’ progress is what sets Birch apart, Aiken said.

“She’s been mature since the day she stepped onto the field in eighth grade,” she said. “That’s one of the best things about her. I’ve lost probably my second-best assistant coach at this point.”

Both coach and player were thrilled for Birch to make the final play

“No,” Aiken said when asked if she could have scripted a better ending. “I’m so excited for that to be her last memory.”

“It’s a pure bliss moment,” Birch said of the win.

Pure bliss for PB.

What an ending.