Dixie High School softball coach Gary Stone raced like a bat out of hell, storming toward the mound.
His Hornets had just won the Class A state championship against East Clarendon, and the celebration began.
But now that Stone’s team had the title, he wanted the ball.
Not for himself or his team.
But for Mary.
Mary Winn, a longtime Dixie secretary, became more than just one in the know, helping students when they needed it.
She became their friend.
In turn, when Winn was diagnosed with cancer, students rallied around the cause to try and find a cure.
The softball team did, especially.
But after Winn died in early May, the Hornets’ mission became twofold:
No. 1: Win a state championship ring for themselves.
No. 2: Give Mary’s husband of 41 years, Scott, the game ball which sealed their title.
Stone had previously given Mary – nicknamed “Winnie” by students -- a game ball, such as the one after the Hornets clinched the 2013 Upper State crown against Fox Creek.
“The team wanted her to have it, and I wondered if it would mean a lot, and I told her I thought she would want this,” Stone said. “And then, she said something like, ‘It’s things like this that really do mean something.’”
With that in mind, the Hornets’ intention was to also give her the game ball if Dixie won state last season. But in a three-game series final, Stone’s team fell short of its goal.
 As it became apparent Dixie was contending for state again this season, Mary tried to find ways to attend games. But, physically, she could not – even in a wheelchair.
“Cancer was completely eating up her bones,” Scott said. “She had liver cancer, bone cancer and had recently found out she had a tumor in her stomach. She was even at the point where she was not able to get chemo.”
The day before Dixie was to beat Wagener-Salley for the district crown, Mary died.
“It just finally overwhelmed her,” Stone said.
Flash forward to this year’s state championship series, and Scott was on his way to Lexington’s River Bluff High School, site of the deciding game, 2013 Dixie graduate and Lakelands Softball Player of the Year, Ashlee Brown, driving.
Ashlee’s younger sister, Brittney, was on this year’s team.
“Ashlee was one of Mary’s favorite people,” Scott said. “She and Brittney had stayed at our house for a great deal of time over the past three years.”
After the Browns’ grandmother died, Mary served as yet another model for them. Therefore, Brittney wanted Scott to be at the state final.
“I told Ashlee I’d love for him to be there and that Winnie would want him to be there,” Brittney said. “So, that’s why I wanted him to go.”
Dixie had the championship game well in hand, leading 12-0. And once Stone looked into the bleachers, he saw Scott.
“There were two outs, and I stepped out of the dugout and I saw him, and I was going to call the team together and say, ‘Whatever you do, hold onto that ball,’” Stone said. “But then again, I decided not to do that. We just need to win this game and not even think about that.”
When Hornets pitcher Delanie Laudenbacher caught a short fly ball, the title was Dixie’s.
But wait! What about the ball?

Laudenbacher had no clue the ball was to be saved, so she spiked it to the ground and joined in on the team celebration.
That’s when Stone had a brief – although massive -- panic attack.
“There I am, making a beeline for the ball and grabbing it and then running back to the backstop, and showed it to Scott,” Stone said. “I said, ‘This is for you.’ I gave the ball to another guy, who then took the ball up to Scott.”
Meanwhile, the players -- with pink-ribbon stickers with the name, “Winnie” on them -- celebrated their championship.
Scott put the ball where others were: in a China Cabinet Mary had made.
“It was very meaningful, and I deeply appreciated it,” Scott said. “I knew they were capable of winning, and I appreciate it more for what they did it for Mary. She sure thought a lot of them.”
But times like this are when his wife’s death hurts the most.
“She didn’t get to see them win it,” Scott said as he sobbed.
But the as the state championship rings will be the Hornets’ connection to a state championship, that state-championship game ball connects Scott to the woman he loved.
“It will be with me forever,” Scott said.
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 864-223-1813; e-mail schancey@indexjournal.com or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.