By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
The softball tournament season is here. Today and Saturday (May 9 and 10), teams around the state will compete in regional tournaments.
There are four teams in each classification at each regional. Of those, the champion and the losers’ bracket champion will travel to Montgomery next week for the state tournament.
Six Etowah County teams qualified for regional play. Listed below is the schedule for their first games:
North Central at Tuscaloosa
Hokes Bluff vs. Cleburne Co., 8 a.m.
Sardis vs. Oneonta, 8 a.m.
North at Huntsville
West End vs. Cherokee, 6 p.m.
Etowah vs. Athens, 8 a.m.
Southside vs. Muscle Shoals, 9:30 a.m.
South Central at Troy
Glencoe vs. Montevallo, 5 p.m.
Class 5A Southside and 4A Sardis both made the state tournament last season, but both lost their first two games.
That experience should help this year, though.
“The feeling of winning is tremendously exciting,” Southside coach Angie San-ders said. “These girls have that feeling in their blood now, so hopefully it’ll help.”
The Panthers return all but one player from last year and Sanders said that a lot of the younger girls have “really developed well.”
Sardis returns five starters off last year’s squad, so experience will certainly help.
The format for softball truly helped the Lions this year.
“We didn’t have a very good season,” Sardis coach MaryBeth Gilliland said. “But we started hitting a good streak when the area tournament came along.”
She noted that the regular season is but a tuneup for the real season – the area, regional and state tournaments.
Neither Etowah nor Hokes Bluff have any regional experience, so they will have to go into the tournament with level heads and don’t let the environment bother them.
“We’ve won a lot of pressure games this year,” Hokes Bluff coach Brandon Bear-den said. “We’ve been in a lot more tournaments than in past years. So I’m hoping all of that will help steady the girls when they hit the field.”
West End was a regional qualifier two years ago but slipped up in the area tournament last season.
“The last time we were an area tournament champion (before 2014) was in 2006,” Patriots coach Ricky Watkins said.
Glencoe has to be a favorite going in, with a 27-3 record. Two of the losses came in the same day – in the Etowah County Tournament.
“It seems that when we make errors, we tend to lose,” Yellow Jackets coach Amy Travis said. “We’ve ridden the arm of Jessica Rathje this year and now our hitting is coming along.”
This will be the fourth year in a row for Glencoe to play in a regional.
“I know that the first game you play in a regional can be nerve wracking,” Travis said. “Thankfully, we don’t have that to worry about anymore.”
Sanders has a philosophy that would be good for any team, in any sport.
“Always be where your feet are,” she said. “What that means is don’t look back and don’t try to look in the future. Live in the present, right where your feet are.You can’t be too hungry or too relaxed. There’s a fine line there and the winning teams find it.”