SINGAPORE - Going into the fourth inning of the National School Games B Division girls' softball final on Friday (April 22), three-time defending champions Methodist Girls' School (MGS) needed just four runs to retain their title.
But no one on the team knew that - not the coach Elaine Chua nor captain Zara Choo - for it was tradition that they do not keep track of the score during their matches.
So when Genevieve Jiow and Louise Kohl touched home after MGS had earlier scored two runs, no cheers erupted from the MGS bench immediately - until the umpire ended the game a few minutes later to seal their 12-2 victory over Raffles Girls' School.
The difference of 10 meant that a fifth and final inning did not have to be played.
Chua, 42, explained that keeping herself and the team in the dark about the score was tradition and she liked having it that way.
The MGS coach of 18 years was delighted with her team's performance. She said: "I always tell them to reset after every inning and to keep going until the umpire says game over.
"There's a sense of relief now that the season is over because it's been a tough few years and they have worked very hard. As the season progressed, I could see them mature and they managed their anxiety better. They were more focused, less nervous and they never gave up."
Pitcher Reiko Sng added that not knowing the score helped her stay focused too.
The Secondary 3 student said: "It's a bit scary but it helps me to control my emotions. If we were leading, I might get complacent. If we were down, I might get stressed about it and then things might go wrong. So not knowing the score is reassuring."
The match at Edgefield Secondary School started as a close affair with both schools scoring two runs each during the first inning.
But MGS proved their mettle in the second, forcing RGS' first three batters out while scoring five runs to lead 7-2.
Spectacular pitching from Reiko and good communication from the field players prevented RGS from scoring another run while MGS recorded one in the third inning and four in the fourth to win their fourth consecutive B Division title.
Reiko, 14, said that playing weekly for her club Maiko against other local teams helped her gain experience by being exposed to different situations. This improved her mental strength as she learnt to handle pressure and was also able to help keep her team's morale up.
Zara, 16, was pleased her B Division career ended on a high. She added: "We put up a tough fight every match and there were lots of life-long lessons to take with us like resilience. The challenges we went through (like balancing sport and studies or training via Zoom during the pandemic) also helped cultivate better character.
"The match was a roller coaster but coach reminded us to take it one play at a time, not to rush and just enjoy it. I'm sad that it's my last year. We've been through so much and we've had many crazy moments and sad moments but we've bonded a lot and we're like one family now."
For RGS captain and pitcher Nydia Chew, although the match did not end in her school's favour, she said her team exceeded expectations by reaching the final.
While she told her teammates to keep smiling and cheering even after they had lost, she too was eventually overcome with emotions during the post-match interview.
She said tearfully: "The outcome doesn't matter. The team enjoyed the game very much today... I'm happy we put up a good fight and didn't give up
"We grew a lot throughout the season in terms of our mindset and team spirit. We're like a family that we can come back to after a long day at school and we cherish our bond so much."
RGS vice-captain Sophia Muhammad Ishak, 16, also paid tribute to her teammates who did not play and the handful of supporters who cheered for the team from outside the venue.
"My biggest takeaway this season is that you don't have to play to be important. It's the small ways that you can help the team, whether it's packing the equipment or filling the water bottles. They may not be as noticeable but they're also important.
"We were quite shocked at first (when) we noticed people standing outside but we thought they were passers-by, then we realised they were our seniors.
"When they waved to us, it was like a dopamine rush and we got our energy boosted so we're really thankful they came to support us although they couldn't come in."