By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Several local rising high school seniors participated for the North in the North/South All-Star games earlier this week in Montgomery.
Westbrook Christian’s Andrew Dutton was named North MVP in the baseball doubleheader at last Tuesday (July 16) at Riverwalk Stadium. The two teams set an all-star record for total runs scored (57) and total hits (41) in the South’s 16-7, 18-16 sweep.
Playing at shortstop, Dutton finished with three hits along with a run scored and two RBI.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Dutton, who committed to Birmingham Southern earlier this summer. “I appreciated the opportunity and how they ran [the event]. There were a lot of runs scored, so it definitely was a long day. I think we didn’t get out of [the stadium] until around 10 [p.m.].”
The North team was co-coached by Matt Kennedy, Dutton’s baseball coach at Westbrook.
“Andrew had a really good day,” said Kennedy. “The stage really wasn’t too big for him, because of his [high school] playoff experience and playing in high-competition travel ball.
“Plus, we played [at Riverwalk Stadium] just a month and a half ago [in the Class 2A state championship series], so it wasn’t like it was unfamiliar territory for Andrew.”
The experience allowed Kennedy to put a face with many of the names of the top players across the state, noting that the North roster had eight [players committed to play in co-llege.
“A lot of those guys will have the opportunity to play at the next level, and it allowed us to see just how high the level of competition is in the state. It was kind of like the MLB All-Star game in that you step aside and let them play. The only bad part was that we only had one day with [the players].”
Dutton was selected ASWA Class 2A Hitter of the Year this past season after batting .443 with an on-base percentage of .603, 40 hits, 50 RBI, 40 runs, six doubles, four triples and seven home runs.
Dutton’s production helped the Warriors go 23-14, win the area title, win four postseason series and make it to the state championship series for the first time since 2013. He was a first-team All-State and All-Messenger selection following the season.
Dutton pointed to his relationship with BSC head baseball coach Jan Weisberg and the high com-petition level as the top reasons for committing to the Panthers.
“I know that Coach Weisberg will take care of me, and [BSC] made it to the championship of the [NCAA Div. III] World Series. Plus, I won’t have to have [the pressure of signing with a college] on my back all the time for this year.”
Southside High’s Maci Williams was a member of the North girls basketball team that posted a 65-46 victory over the South last Tuesday (July 16) at Alabama State Universi-ty.
In eight minutes of action, Williams finished with five points and two rebounds.
“It was a really great experience and I loved having the opportunity to go,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone on the [North] team when I got there, so was able to make new friends.”
The 6’0” Williams noted that unlike against her usual Class 5A competition, she was not among the tallest players on the court on Tuesday.
“It was a great opportunity for me to play there, because it was just a different level of play and I got to play against girls I have never played against before.”
Williams enjoyed the teams’ visit to a Montgomery-area Boys & Girls Club, where the all-star players put on a basketball clinic for local youngsters.
“I’m actually planning on being a teacher, and I love little kids, so that actually was the highlight of my trip. That [visit] was probably the highlight of some of those kids’ su-mmer, so it was a really great experience.”
Williams averaged 14.2 points and 10 rebounds as the 2018-19 Lady Panthers went 20-6, won an area championship and subregional playoff game and made the pro-gram’s first-ever regional tournament appearance. She was a first team pick for the All-Messenger girls basketball team.
The North coach was Kim Nails, who is Williams coach at Southside.
“I felt that Maci really held her own out there,” said Nails. “That was the tallest lineup that I’ve ever coached, and we had to rotate six post players in and out.
“It was a great group of talented girls who were fun to work with. Our biggest challenge was getting kids enough minutes.”
Nails also appreciated the teams’ visit to the local Boys & Girls Club.
“I think the players really enjoyed their interaction with the kids. I thought it was a meaningful way to give back. The [AHSAA] did a great job of making the players feel special during the whole time they were there.”
Gadsden City’s Haley Swafford and Westbrook’s Alyia Al-Homoud (pictured above) played for the North girls soccer team in a 3-1 loss to the South on Wednesday, July 17 at the Emory Folmar Soccer Complex.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Al-Homoud, who plays club ball with the local Fusion team. “I didn’t know anybody else on the team besides Haley, but I made a lot of new friends.
“I was kind of hard to connect with each other at the beginning of the game since we never played with each other, but as the game went on, we began to play more as a team.”
Both Al-Homoud and Swafford were named to 2019 All-Etowah County girls soccer team.
“The loss was really hard but the experience of meeting all these new girls and knowing that we had one of the best teams of the state was awesome,” said Swafford. “I knew a lot of girls from [the] Vestavia Hills [Soccer Club], so the level of competition was so much higher than in the usual games.”
Swafford appreciated the opportunity of playing with in-stead of against Al-Homoud, whom she grew up with.
“We’ve been playing together forever, so it was a nice experience. It also was really hot out there, but you have to push through it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Southside girls coach Tiffany Cargill, who was coach of the North team, thought that Swafford and Al-Homoud held their own.
“I think both girls were able to represent the Gadsden/Rainbow City area very well. They’re overall great girls with great attitudes who definitely deserved to be there.”
Cargill, who was named Class 4A/5A Coach of the Year after guiding to Southside to a 21-3 record and the program’s third straight Final Four appearance, added that it was interesting bringing together players from various schools and classifications.
“I really enjoyed that experience in seeing them colla-borate. They may have had a hard time in finding their groove, but that didn’t take away from their individual abilities. When you play against other teams, you just kind of look at them at face value as an opponent, and being able to work with these girls over the past few days was very enlightening in getting to know them a lot better. They were all really good kids.”
Cargill also enjoyed the team’s participation on Tuesday in a soccer mentoring program with local youth.
“I think the players did a great job taking ownership and investing in the process of developing their own activities for the kids. One of the big things we told the girls was to be what you wanted to be when you were younger, and I think that really resonated with them.”
Southside’s Isaac Franklin had an assist and a shot on goal in the North’s 3-0 win in the boys soccer match on Wednesday, July 17.
“The speed was so much quicker than in a regular high school game,” said Franklin, who was listed first on MaxPreps for total points for the 2019 high school soccer sea-son. “Playing with so many talented guys, it was a different experience with the level of competition.”
Franklin knew three players on the North roster who are his teammates in travel ball with the Vestavia Hills Soccer Club.
“That helped a little bit with the chemistry,” he said.
Franklin enjoyed the mentoring clinic for local youths that the North and South boys and girls’ squads conducted earlier on Wednesday at the soccer complex.
“We kind of got to know [the youths] and they got to know us,” he said. “It was a very wholesome time and it felt good giving those kids a chance to get out and try something different.”
Franklin was named the 2019 All-Etowah County Team MVP and was a Class 5A All-State first team pick after scoring 31 goals and distributing 30 assists at forward while helping the Panthers post a 16-2-1 record, win an area championship and register the program’s first state playoff victory since 2016.