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When Shelby County's Haleigh LeCompte stepped into the batter's box for the first time back on March 29, she knew the sounds coming from behind her.
"Tiffany was talking," LeCompte says of Anderson County catcher Tiffany Davenport. "She was trying to get me to talk to her."
If the grins on both faces were any indication, Davenport was successful.
"The umpire said to me, 'I take it you know each other,'" Davenport says. "I told him, 'We are best friends.'"
Right in the middle of one of Kentucky's most intense high school rivalries, an unlikely friendship has emerged that might be a lesson to all about what playing a sport is all about.
Forget the scoreboard, even if just for a minute or two. It's a game. Fun.
But to those who had watched LeCompte become one of Kentucky's best young pitchers over the years, something stood out as much as those wicked breaking pitches she offers a hitter: She rarely smiled on the diamond.
Enter Tiffany Davenport and some of her buddies.
Let's back up a little bit.
It all started last May. LeCompte's father, Charlie, was none too thrilled with a Louisville-area summer team his daughter had been playing for in 2006. He shared that with a co-worker, Christy Glass, who lives in Anderson County.
And it just so happens that her brother-in-law, Brian Glass, helped found the Central Kentucky Bat Cats, based in Lawrenceburg, as a summertime developmental team.
Charlie LeCompte recalls, "We talk softball all the time and Christy said, 'Why don't you just call Brian.'"
It also just so happened that the Bat Cats were looking for pitchers and were thrilled to have LeCompte join the team.
But at home, Charlie had a major sales job on his hands. Haleigh only knew Davenport from the battles they had had on the softball field and basketball court. "We hated each other," the Shelby junior admits. "Of all the Anderson players, she was the one that stood out in my mind."
It was episodes like last April, when Anderson shelled Shelby 15-0 with Colleen Fitzpatrick belting a grand slam off LeCompte. Waiting at home plate, holding everyone back so Fitzpatrick would have a clean plate to touch was Tiffany Davenport.
"Tiffany likes to talk trash big time," smiles her dad, Dudley Davenport.
"She was so cocky," Haleigh continues. "I didn't see her clearing the plate, but when we played them in the second game (an 11-3 Shelby win in the district tournament final) you could hear her keep telling them 'We can come back.'"
LeCompte nods in her father's direction. "He made the call and I was not very happy about it."
The feelings in Lawrenceburg were mutual.
"I had heard she was coming over (to play summer ball with the Bat Cats)," Davenport says. "I was sad about that. I didn't want her to come and I didn't like it because she played for Shelby County."
The tension, which might have grown over the years of being heated rivals and could have been as difficult to navigate as I-64 under construction, lasted all of a few minutes of the first practice.
Davenport and her best friend on the Lady Bearcats, Kritty Morrow, took it upon themselves to welcome their former foe. "We walked up to her with our softball pants pulled up to our armpits," Davenport remembers, with only a hint of a smile.
After all, those that are around Davenport and Morrow the most know that goofy behavior is expected. Seriousness is abnormal.
LeCompte, though, nearly doubled over laughing on her living room couch recounting the story. Then she adds, "Tiffany was wearing these big sunglasses and was already acting crazy."
"It's just me being me," Davenport says.
Brian Glass noticed. "After one or two practices, you could tell the girls all got along."
Part of that might be the competitiveness they share. Ask either about losses and the answer is simply, "I hate to lose."
But it went beyond the diamond. As Glass says, "You can't help but have fun around Tiffany and Kritty."
And it was apparent to LeCompte's family. "We had never seen Haleigh smile when she was on the mound in all the years that she has pitched," says Sheri LeCompte, Haleigh's mother. "This past summer, we saw her smile for the first time as well as many times throughout the summer. Tiffany has a way of keeping Hay relaxed on the mound if not in full blown laughter."
But you can also bet the bond between Tiffany Davenport and Haleigh LeCompte is stronger than the diamond.
They proved that when they battled on the basketball floor just days after the girls had attended the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Their teams, considered to be among the best in the Eighth Region, squared off at Shelby County on Jan. 4.
Anderson blew a big lead as Shelby rallied for the victory.
But after the game, LeCompte headed to Lawrenceburg where she spent the night with Davenport, who was her usual self, talking smack almost non-stop.
Tiffany's mother Minnie Davenport laughed as she recalled that Haleigh, the quieter of the two, simply looked at her new best friend saying, "'You just lost. You can't rub it in.'"
Two months later, their teams met again for the district basketball championship. Shelby won that one too, in overtime at Spencer County. A key point in the game was that Davenport, one of Anderson's strongest and most physical players, got in foul trouble and eventually went to the bench for good in the fourth quarter.
LeCompte noticed and her night was subdued.
"In some ways, I didn't want to go out there (to join the Shelby celebration) because I knew Tiffany wanted it so bad," Haleigh says. "I was glad we won, but I didn't want to celebrate in front of Tiffany."
Instead, she headed back to Shelbyville with her team, then drove to Lawrenceburg, where she again spent the night at the Davenport house.
It is a ritual that goes on nearly every weekend. The only thing that changes is the where. Davenport often heads to Charlie and Sheri LeCompte's home between Waddy and Shelbyville. More often than not, some of the Anderson team makes the trip with her.
On Sunday mornings, they usually attend Shelbyville's Highland Baptist Church together. "Sheri is my Sunday School teacher," Tiffany smiles.
"Tiffany goes a lot of places with Haleigh's family and has gotten to do a lot of things," said her mother. "We know that she is well taken care of."
Throughout football season, LeCompte was often seen in the Anderson student section. At Shelby's homecoming game on Sept. 21, Davenport was decked out in Rocket blue and gold. During basketball season, when Anderson was playing on a Shelby open date, LeCompte usually was watching the Bearcats or Lady Cats and vice-versa.
Both attended the Anderson prom.
When the teams played on March 29, Haleigh provided some comic relief her first time at the plate when she fell down running to first. Thoroughly embarrassed by the sight of her trying to crawl to first base, LeCompte admits the Lady Bearcats gave her some good-natured grief with Davenport - who else? - being at the center of it.
"It was SO FUNNY," said Davenport, who was beside herself as she went to the dugout following the inning. "She made a real high-pitched sound. It was hilarious."
"I will tell you what is funny," said Charlie LeCompte, who doubles as an assistant coach for Shelby softball and girls' basketball. "At the Ballard tournament (on March 29), we played Anderson early in the morning and then had to play them again later. While we were waiting for the game, the teams were sitting together. You would see two or three Shelby girls, then two or three Anderson girls.
"Then Brian came over to tell his team to get ready. Everybody on both teams just got up."
Haleigh LeCompte wasn't one of them. She had been the winning pitcher in a 1-0 decision the first game but was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the fourth inning.
"I just thought it was going to sting a while," she said.
"We had been pitching her outside, then Courtney (Turpin, Anderson's pitcher) came inside but the ball came too far inside. She didn't mean to hit her."
LeCompte's right wrist, her pitching hand, was broken in a growth plate.
"I was just praying she was OK," Glass recalls.
Davenport, who was the first batter LeCompte would face in the fifth knew something was wrong as LeCompte warmed up. "Haleigh was crying," she says. "She doesn't cry so I knew something was wrong."
LeCompte stayed in the game. That's what a rivalry will do.
"She is tougher than nails," says Shelby coach Kelly Cable. "She pitched two innings with a broken wrist."
"The reason she did that is because it was Anderson County," smiled Haleigh's mom, a Shelbyville physical therapist.
And in a scene that is normally reserved for a movie plot, Davenport belted a double off her best friend. "She said the only reason I got a hit off her was because she was hurt," Davenport grins.
But LeCompte might have gotten the last laugh as she retired Davenport for the game's final out.
With their summertime teammate sidelined for the next game, Anderson rolled to a 7-0 win.
While both hoped that LeCompte would be back on the rubber for the April 22 match-up to decide seeding for the 30th District Tournament, LeCompte remained on the sideline, still recovering. However, she was on the sideline as the Lady Rockets held off Anderson 10-9. No doubt pulling for her team, but quietly watching Davenport's at bats and antics in the Anderson dugout.
The timetable for LeCompte's return is still open ended, with the possibility of surgery still an option. However, she can take solace in the prospect that the teams will meet in the district finals. Shelby and Anderson have the top two seeds in the tournament.
And even more importantly, there is a friendship goes far beyond the diamond. LeCompte and Davenport have talked about attending college together, which would be natural, since they are virtually inseparable in their time away from school and their teams.
The bond goes beyond Tiffany's trash talk or Haleigh's reluctance to celebrate in front of her friend.
Following the district basketball final, Tiffany Davenport's name was called as a member of the all-tournament team. As she joined those already honored, someone came from behind the Shelby bench onto the floor.
It was Sheri LeCompte, who embraced the girl who had been trying to defeat her daughter and husband just moments before. "I told Tiffany I loved her," Sheri says.
A minute or so later, Haleigh LeCompte's name was called. The pulled up softball pants and goofy sunglasses were long gone but Haleigh and Tiffany were on the same team again.
LeCompte was smiling that night, just as she does when anyone asks her about the Anderson County catcher. The description is to the point.
"Tiffany is my best friend."