Just beyond the backstop of the softball field stands a press box with lists of team accomplishments. One sign screams “State Champions 2004 32-0” while others celebrate the 2007 state title and numerous other seasons.

And to think that, gulp, it almost never happened at all for the Webb City High School Softball Program.

The story goes that, in the early 1990s, despite a group of parents petitioning the Webb City school board to add softball, money was too tight. That was a reality faced by many other rural school districts – until the Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bill 380 in 1993.

“School districts were then better prepared to add activities,” said then-Assistant Superintendent Ron Lankford. “We really became a pace-setter.”

Beginning in 1994, the Lady Cardinals surged over the next 25 years to become one of the state’s most successful, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the Webb City High School Softball Program with the Class of 2019.

Webb City has advanced to 10 Final Fours, winning it all twice in Class 3 (2004, 2007). The program also was a state runner-up twice (2000, 2013), placed third four times (2005, 2008, 2010, 2011) and fourth once (1997). Its 2003 third-place game was rained out.

Walter Resa’s teams won 498 games in the first 21 seasons. Since then, coach Shauna Friend has led the program to success as the 2017 team won its district and sectional, while the 2015 and 2018 teams were district runners-up.

Overall, it’s a remarkable story: Of Webb City High School girls unknowingly blazing the trail in the 1980s by playing on summer travel teams. Of folks who didn’t even have connections to the program helping in some way. And of the bar being raised high by the inaugural team.

When the school announced it would field a team in 1994, about 80 girls signed up. Thirty ended up turning out, and what a run it was. Those Lady Cardinals fell one game short of reaching the Final Four.

“Once we got started, we were good,” said Stephanie Taylor, a 1995 graduate on the first team. “We had all played travel ball. And we had a ton of support from parents. That season, our slogan was, ‘Building The Base of a Strong Foundation.’”

Resa emphasized that it was the players’ program.

“We had great parents, and we tried to make it family oriented,” Resa said. “It’s all about the players. When we won state championships, I stood back and watched players enjoy it. The players bought in, and we let the players set up the expectations every year.”

The 1997 team became the program’s first Final Four entry and finished 25-3. The 2000 team was the first to reach a state championship game and finished 26-3. The 2003 team, which finished 24-5, won a district championship with assistant Kathy Harris coaching as Resa tended to an injured player.

The undefeated 2004 team eked out a 2-1 semifinal win against Cape Girardeau’s Notre Dame High School. That group had a motto of “Leave No Doubt.”

“A lot of the girls, we grew up watching Webb City softball and had an idea of the tradition and everything that was built along the way for us,” said catcher Molly Garst Harvey. “We played summer ball together, so we had an idea of how to win games and the heart to grind out and win big-time games.”

The 2005 team finished 24-6.

The 2007 team overcame injuries and a 1-2 record to win the program’s second state title. In the semifinals, Nicole Hudson struck out 15 as Webb City beat previously 28-0 Cape-Notre Dame in a 3-0 final. In the championship, Kylie Jones hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh as the Lady Cardinals won 2-1.

The Final Four teams of 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013 won 29, 31, 29 and 22 games, respectively. It became common for Webb City to draw 500 to 1,000 fans a game, with the team moving to an on-campus field in Year 3.

Additionally, numerous players went on to play collegiate softball, including four-time First Team All-State selections Hudson (University of Missouri, 2013 Team USA) and Garst (University of Purdue).

“Our girls expected big things,” Resa said. “They along with the coaches just worried about the play and execution, not the outside noise. The girls wanted to live up to the previous years’ willingness to do what it took to be their best.”