By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
The Southside High softball team‘s impressive postseason run ended one run short of the Class 6A state championship on Saturday (May 16) in Montgomery.
After battling back through the playback bracket to reach the title game, the Lady Panthers (42-7) posted a 5-4 eight-inning victory over Wetumpka.
That was the Lady Indians’ first loss of the double-elimination tournament, however, so the teams had to play another championship contest, one that Wetumpka won 3-2 by way of a score off a close play at home plate in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Making the loss that much tougher to swallow was that Southside had tied the game in the top half of the inning when a two-out base hit by Claire Graves drove in Caroline Pope.
But Tournament MVP Destiny Brewer led off the bottom of the seventh with a single and advanced to second on Courtney Richardson’s sacrifice bunt. Brewer then went to third on a passed ball.
Alex Christian walked, and during the next at-bat Brewer raced for home on an errant pitch. She and the throw from catcher Morgan Holloway arrived at the same time to Graves at the plate, but Brewer knocked the ball loose for the score and the win.
“These girls left it all on the field – blood sweat, tears, all the way to the last pitch,” said Southside head coach Angie Sanders. “To me, this second-place trophy is not second place, because our players put everything they had into every single moment since until the very last possible situation in the last game. We didn’t win, but I don’t consider this a failure by any means.”
The Lady Indians took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Savannah Reaves scored on an error and Brewer singled home Tamia Mitchell.
Graves, who replaced Brittany Williams at pitcher in the bottom of the third, kept the Lady Panthers in the game in allowing just four baserunners over the next four innings.
Meanwhile, Southside drew within a run in the top of the fifth when Williams scored on Molly Free’s sacrifice fly. But the Lady Panthers couldn’t hold off Wetumpka in the end.
Graves took the loss, allowing one earned run, five hits and one walk with three strikeouts in five innings. Williams surrendered five hits and two earned runs.
Graves and Paiden Kircus each went 2-for-4, while Emilee Coker, Free, Britney Kidd and Williams each had a hit.
After losing to Wetumpka, 6-1, in the semifinals, the Lady Panthers posted a 2-0 win over Daphne in the playback bracket. That victory allowed Southside to face the Lady Indians in the first championship game, which Southside won courtesy of Hunter Ashcraft’s score off an error with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The Lady Panthers dodged a bullet in the top of the inning when with the bases loaded and one-out, leftfielder Britney Kidd caught a liner and threw home to nail the runner for a double play.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Southside tied the score when both Molly Free and Grave scored on fielding errors. The Lady Panthers took a 4-3 lead later in the inning when Kidd’s RBI groundout plated Kircus.
That advantage didn’t hold up, as Wetumpka tied the game in the top of the seventh on Richardson’s RBI single.
In the bottom of the first, Emilee Coker scored on Paiden Kircus’ sacrifice fly for a 1-1 tie.
Wetumpka took a 3-1 lead in the top of the third when Brewer and Richardson scored on a fielder’s choice and sacrifice fly, respectively.
Graves got the win in three innings, scattering four hits, two earned runs and two walks while fanning one. In five innings, Williams allowed six hits, one earned run and two walks with two strikeouts.
At the plate for Southside, Coker went 3-for-5 with a run scored; Graves had two hits and a run scored; Kircus had a hit, an RBI and a run scored; and Kidd, Savannah Yancey and Holloway each had a hit.
Graves was sharp in the Lady Panthers’ playback win over Daphne, tossing a one-hitter while walking none and striking out 10 in seven innings.
Free had a big game at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two RBI. Kircus and Yancey each had a pair of hits, while Coker scored both of the team’s runs.
Kircus, Graves and Yancey each had a hit in the semifinal loss against Wetumpka, with Kircus scoring the team’s lone run. Graves took the loss on the mound, allowing 10 hits, three earned runs and two walks with five strikeouts in six innings.
Sanders was not at all concerned about her team’s mindset following its semifinal setback.
“We knew it wasn’t over. We just didn’t know how good [Wetumpka] was. Giving the girls a pep talk to help us get back to finals was never an issue. We knew it was going to be a tough road, but our girls don’t fear losing.”
Southside started the tournament on May 15 with a pair of wins.
The Lady Panthers scored six first inning runs against Daphne en route to their 8-2 opening round victory.
Graves set the tempo of the game in striking out two of the first three batters she faced. In all, Graves fanned 14 Lady Trojans while scattering two hits and one walk.
Coker opened the bottom of the first inning with a walk and Kircus followed with a single. Graves was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.
An error and an illegal pitch plated the first two Southside runs, followed by an RBI single by Savannah Elkins to give Southside a 3-0 lead.
A bases-loaded walk to Pope made it 4-0, and Hunter Ashcraft’s RBI single followed with a single drove in two more runs for a 6-0 lead.
The Lady Panthers added a run in the second inning on an RBI single by Kidd and a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Ashcraft. Daphne picked up single runs in the fourth and sixth innings.
Yancey went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored; Ashcraft went 2-for-4 with three RBI; Kidd went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored; Elkins went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored; Kircus went 2-for-4 with a run scored; Williams went 2-for-3; Free had a hit and a run scored; and Lauren Hunt had two runs scored.
Later in the day, Kircus singled home a run in the first inning and Graves made it stand up on the mound as Southside downed Chelsea, 1-0.
Graves allowed three hits and two walks and struck out eight in seven innings, while Chelsea starter Alexis Eisenburg gave up three hits and three walks with five strikeouts.
Coker led off the game with single, stole second and came home on Kircus’ RBI base hit.
Kidd added a single in the inning but that would be the Lady Panther’s final hit of the game.
Chelsea loaded the bases in the third and fifth innings but Graves was able to pitch out of trouble.
Southside head coach Angie Sanders was pleased overall with her team’s performance on Day 1.
“We played well, although we made some errors we were able to overcome. We did keep our composure. Remember, these are 16, 17 and 18 year old girls.”
Joining Brewer on the All-Tournament Team were Alex Christian, Savannah Reaves, and Lauren Lett from Wetumpka; Paiden Kircus, Claire Graves and Savanna Yancey from Southside; Claire Jenkins from Cullman; and Aspyn Goodwin, from Daphne.
Sanders had special praise four her four-member senior class, each of whom signed a college softball scholarship.
“I feel that Savannah Elkins is one of the best defensive players that I’ve ever coached,” said Sanders. “She brought her consistency and defense to the field every game. We all know what Claire has done for us both pitching-wise and offensively. Brittany has done a great job for us at first base and she’s won some big games for us as a pitcher both this season and in the past. Paiden has always been a leader and a team player for our program. I think the world of those girls.”