Air Academy softball coach Chris Hernez did something this season he's never done before: he named team captains.
One of them was senior Payton Romines, a critical part of an Air Academy team that advanced to the state semifinals before bowing out to Erie in a 6-4 loss.
"She's been a cornerstone of the program the last four years," Hernez said. "She had an immediate impact as a freshman and has only gotten better every year."
Romines is The Gazette Softball Peak Performer of the Year.
In 21 games, Romines hit .614, drove in 41 runs, scored 34 more, homered six times and posted an OPS of 1.701.
While Hernez said Romines' numbers always proved her one of the best players on the team, her leadership blossomed after she and fellow senior Julia Elbert were named captains.
"I wanted them to be in a position to be recognized by players and coaches and parents," Hernez said.
But being named team captains solidified the role Romines and Elbert felt they were already playing: helping their teammates.
A large part of that role, Romines said, meant minimizing drama. One way of doing that was before practice, when teammates would chat through the trials and tribulations of high school.
"You'd just see their days go from zero to 100 because they have the team to go to," Romines said. "That was probably the coolest part about my high school experience."
"Everybody knew we had something special," Hernez said. "There was a sense of 'let's not squander this, let's row in the same direction.'"
In the loss to Erie, Romines slid into first base head-first to ensure she was safe.
"We needed base runners, things weren't really happening for us," Hernez said. "That's how she plays - whatever it takes to be safe, to score a run."
Romines sliding isn't out of the ordinary - in club play, where Hernez has coached Romines, her trademark move is to dive over the catcher to score, which she's done several times. That effort translated to high school, too.
Hernez said Romines was always working outside of practice and spearheading a positive team mentality, reminding teammates that they were a top team. She'd help him coach and mentor younger players.
"Other than winning state, she couldn't have gone out any better," Hernez said. "I don't know when we'll see another player like Payton. It's a big hole to fill."
Next year, Romines will continue her softball career at Division II Holy Family University in Philadelphia. A solid nursing program and a tour of the school sealed the deal.
"There's nowhere else I'd rather go," she said.
Romines was quick to give Air Academy credit for making her a better player.
"A lot of people don't have a chance to play this game," Romines said. "If it wasn't for this high school team, there's no way I could do the things that I do."