Photo: Southside High’s Rylee Gattis delivers a pitch during the Lady Panthers’ victory over Sardis in the Etowah County softball tournament championship game on Wednesday (Apr. 11) at Hokes Bluff. (Cole Frederick/Messenger)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
The Southside High Lady Panthers captured their seventh consecutive Etowah County softball tournament championship with a thrilling 9-7 victory over Sardis on Wednesday (April 11) at Hokes Bluff.
Sardis (10-14) struck first after back-to-back singles from Jade Bonds and Emily Cook. Carly Sarratt knocked through a single to bring Bonds home, and Lauren Noojin connected on an RBI single to score Cook and give the Lady Lions a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
The Lady Panthers (15-13) wasted no time responding in the bottom of the inning. Emilee Coker started off the inning with a hit and moved into scoring position by stealing second base on the next pitch. An infield single from Lauren Hunt set up Rylee Gattis with an early RBI opportunity, and the latter connected on a hit that scored Coker to close the gap to 2-1.
Cleanup hitter Julia Hurley’s base hit scored both Hunt and Gattis, which gave Southside a 3-2 lead. Two batters later, Sydney Yancey’s single scored another run. Yancey later scored on an RBI double from Coker as the Lady Pan-thers batted around and led 7-2.
The Lady Lions slowly chipped away at the lead after Whitney Feemster hit a one-out double in the top of the se-cond. Harlee Vincent drove Feemster home to cut the lead to 7-3.
Southside’s bats went cold during the middle innings, and Sardis pitcher Jade Bonds only gave up three hits in four innings of work. Bonds started the top of the third inning with a double and Lauryn Noojin drove her home to close the gap to 7-4.
After a quiet fourth inning for both teams, Sardis went back to work at the plate in the top of the fifth. The tandem of Bonds and Noojin were pivotal again for the Lady Lions. Bonds led off the inning with another base hit, and two batters later, Noojin blasted a home run to deep centerfield to trim Southside’s lead to 7-6.
Southside extended the lead back to two runs after Lynn-sey Hunt grounded out to score Chloe Gattis in the bottom of the fifth. However, Sardis responded with another run in the top of the sixth inning after Harlee Vincent drove home Mallory Wills to cut the lead to 8-7.
One run was as close as Sardis could get to Southside, however, and the Lady Panthers added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Lauren Hunt hit a leadoff double and Rylee Gattis drove her home to increase the lead to 9-7. A double play ended Sardis’ chances of scoring in the top of the seventh, and the Lady Panthers survived the come-back attempt.
Southside coach Kyle Routon said the game was indicative of his team’s season, for better or worse.
“That (game) describes our season,” Routon said. “We play for a seventh of it. We hit and get rolling, and everybody hits. The rest of the time it’s a couple just trying to carry us the whole time. Hopefully we’ll keep it on track. … The two runs late were huge.”
Routon, who is in his first season as head coach, said winning the county championship was “definitely” on the team’s list of goals before the year started.
“It will be (a goal) every year,” Routon said. “We don’t want to come into the county tournament and not win it, of course. That knocks one (goal) down, and we have a couple of more that hopefully we can reach.”
Coker, Hunt, Chloe Gattis and Kaylee Brown each had two hits for Southside. Yancey, Rylee Gattis, Julia Hurley and Alexis Rennhack all had one hit. Rylee Gattis also had two RBIs and earned the win on the mound. Coker, Yancey, Chloe Gattis and Lynnsey Hunt all had one RBI, while Coker also stole two bases.
Bonds and Noojin were both 3-for-4 at the plate. Noojin drove home four runs, while Bonds scored three times. Emily Cook had two hits for the Lady Lions, while Sarratt, Wills, Feemster and Vincent all had one hit. Vincent also had two RBIs on the afternoon and Sarratt had one.
Sardis knocked off Hokes Bluff, 9-8, in the semifinals earlier on Wednesday to reach the championship game. Southside beat West End, 10-0, last Saturday (Apr. 7) in the other semifinal game.
Hurley was named the Most Valuable Player of the tour-nament. She was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Coker, Lauren Hunt and Chloe Gattis. Bonds, Noojin and Feemster made the team for Sardis.
Other members of the all–tournament team included Gaston’s Allison Cohen, Glencoe’s Skylar Thompson, West End’s Lexus Collins and Jayleigh Kirby and Hokes Bluff’s Kileigh Blackwell and Emilee Latronico.