Lady Panthers top Hokes Bluff for county softball title

 Southside High’s Paiden Kircus rounds second base on the way to a fourth-inning triple in the Lady Panthers’ 9-1 win over Hokes Bluff in the Etowah County Tournament championship game on Saturday (Apr. 19) at SHS. Southside High’s Paiden Kircus rounds second base on the way to a fourth-inning triple in the Lady Panthers’ 9-1 win over Hokes Bluff in the Etowah County Tournament championship game on Saturday (Apr. 19) at SHS.

By Chris McCarthy/Editor

The Southside High softball team made short work of the opposition in the Etowah County Schools Tournament last weekend at SHS.

The Class 5A No. 3 Lady Panthers (27-6) opened with a 10-0 victory over defending championship Sardis on Friday (Apr. 18), then followed up on Saturday with a 9-1 win over Hokes Bluff.

Claire Graves and Brittany Williams combined for a four-hitter in the title game. Graves started and went four innings, striking out seven while allowing one hit and no walks. She retired the first nine Hokes Bluff batters before Jenkins’ single in the fourth broke up the no-hit bid. Jenkins got no further, as Graves ended the day on the mound by retiring the next three batters. 

In two innings of relief, Williams allowed three hits and a pair of walks while fanning two. 

The Lady Eagles’ run came in the top of the sixth, when Carlie Shields’ sacrifice fly plated Maddy Jenkins. 

By that time, however, the hosts were enjoying a nine-run lead. Williams allowed a two-out infield single in the seventh before ending the game with a strikeout. 

At the plate for Southside, Tournament MVP Paiden Kircus went 2-for-4 with a double, a triple, an RBI and two runs scored. 

Molly Free went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double, three RBI and a run scored.

Hunter Ashcraft had a hit, an RBI and a run scored, while Graves, Williams, Mallory Smith and Savannah Yancey each had a hit.

Hokes Bluff (18-13) reached the championship with a 7-6 semifinal win over Class 3A No. 4 Glencoe and an 11-1 victory over Gaston. 

“I was excited to play Hokes Bluff, because we haven’t seen them in a few years,” said Southside head coach Angie Sanders. “They hit the ball well against Glencoe, so that’s what we were preparing for. Claire pitched well, and Brittany’s been strong for us all year. We also hit well this weekend, so I’m proud of our girls for that.” 

The Lady Panthers used some small ball early in the game, loading the bases on bunt singles from Smith, Yancey and Emily Coker and a sacrifice bunt by Savannah Elkins. Smith eventually scored on an error for a 1-0 Southside lead.

“My team is fast, so we have to use that speed to our advantage,” said Sanders.

Ashcraft had an RBI base hit in the following inning and later scored on an error to make it a three-run lead.

In the bottom of the third, Kircus led off with a double and Coker got on base by way of an error, setting up Free’s three-run homer over the centerfield fence. 

Elkins, Kircus and Coker scored in the fourth for a 9-0 advantage. 

In six innings, Hokes Bluff starter Mallory Belyeu allowed 11 hits and five earned runs while striking out three. She did not walk a batter. 

Jenkins went 2-for-3 for the Lady Eagles, while Hannah Evans and Kayleigh Watkins each had a hit. 

Joining Kircus on the all-tournament team were Graves, Coker and Elkins from Southside; Evans, Shields and Belyeu from Hokes Bluff; Jessica Ratjhe and Chandler Hardin from Glencoe; Morgan Cleveland and Destiney Butts from West End; Mackenzie Sarratt from Sardis; and Darby Samples from Gaston. 

In other tournament games, Sardis defeated West End, 5-3. 

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