On Friday at Montgomery's Lagoon Park, the two teams who advanced unscathed through the winners bracket were the Lady Warriors and Haleyville. They clashed early Saturday morning, with the eighth-ranked Lady Lions pulling out a dramatic 3-2 come-from-behind victory.
That sent second-ranked Cherokee County into a rematch with top-ranked Holtville, while the Lady Lions awaited the winner in the championship. A grand slam in the first inning by second baseman Darbie Rosser provided the spark the Lady Warriors needed in a 10-2 victory over Holtville, setting up a rematch with Haleyville for the title.
Lady Lion sophomore pitcher and tournament Most Valuable Player Holly Ward shut down Cherokee County's bats, giving up just two hits in a 5-0 decision for the school's first fast-pitch softball title. Cherokee County, which was shut out for the first time this season, finished as state runner-up for the second consecutive year.
"Haleyville just got on a good streak when they got here," Lady Warrior coach Travis Barnes said. "Their pitcher was on top of her game, and you've got to have a little bit of luck too. It just seemed like every ball bounced their way. They just got hot at the right time, and they just out-played us these past two games."
Saturday's results were in stark contrast of last weekend's North Central Regional in Vestavia Hills. The Lady Warriors were the victors in those two battles, winning 5-0 and 10-5.
"We had it going our way at regionals, and they (Haleyville) had it going their way today," Lady Warrior junior pitcher Tori Davis said. "Softball's a sport where you never know what's going to happen. You always have to be prepared for what the other team throws at you. It just happened to be going in their favor this weekend, and not so much in ours. We played our best. We were playing together as a team, but they just had it going for them this weekend."
Haleyville coach Kelly Rushing credited his kids for the way they battled back after losing to the Lady Warriors in the regional tournament.
"I told my assistant coaches we may not be the best team in the region, but on this particular weekend, we're the best team in the state," Rushing said. "Coach Barnes and his group are a quality softball team, and I really believe if we played 10 times, the record might be 5-5. We beat them in that 3-2 game early this morning, and that was the key. If that would have been reversed, I don't think we could have come through the losers bracket. We'd have been fatigued like they were."
In their first meeting on Saturday, the Lady Warriors (39-6) held a 2-1 lead through six innings after a two-run homer to centerfield by catcher Madison Millsaps. Halevylle (37-14) rallied for two runs to take a 3-2 advantage in the top of the seventh thanks to a two-run single by shortstop Lacey Burleson. Ward fought off a furious comeback attempt by the Lady Warriors, who got a pair of runners on with two outs, but Rosser grounded out to first to end the game.
Millsaps went 3 for 4 at the plate with a run and two RBIs. Senior centerfielder Audra Bradley added a triple and scored a run. Sophomore first baseman Molly Brewer and junior pitcher Tori Davis both had a pair of hits.
Davis suffered the tough-luck loss in the circle, giving up two earned runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Ward was credited with the win after coming in to relieve Haleyville starter Lacey Burleson in the third. Ward didn't yield a run in five innings. She finished with a walk and six strikeouts.
Cherokee County rebounded in a big way in an elimination game against Holtville. They defeated the Lady Bulldogs for the second time in as many days, thanks to Rosser and Millsaps at the plate.
Rosser connected on a grand slam to left field in the first inning, providing Davis all the run support she would need. Rosser finished the game going 2 for 4 with six RBIs and scored twice.
Cherokee County scored four more runs in the second to take a commanding 8-0 lead. Rosser came up big again with a two-run single to right. Senior shortstop Candace Blanchard added a two-run double to right center. After Holtville (36-10) managed a run in the fifth on a homer to left center by senior third baseman Ashley Strength, Millsaps put the exclamation point on the win by belting a two-run shot to right in the sixth.
Millsaps finished the game going 3 for 4 with two runs and two RBIs. Brewer went 2 for 4 with a pair of runs. Blanchard, Bradley and freshman third baseman Claire Chesnut each had a hit. Blanchard also drove in two runs, while Bradley scored a pair of runs.
Holtville scored a run in the top of the seventh on a RBI-single to left by senior right fielder Adreanne Eaddy for the final.
Davis earned the win in the circle after giving up just one earned run on three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. Sophomore Dani Oates suffered the loss for the Lady Bulldogs.
The win set up the championship rematch with Haleyville, but Ward was able to silence the Lady Warrior bats. She gave up just two hits in the game: a single to right by Blanchard in the second and a single to center in the seventh by sophomore right fielder Kayle Moon.
The Lady Lions scored a run in the top of the first after junior leadoff hitter Callie Pendley had a bunt single and advanced all the way to third on a throwing error by Millsaps. Pendley scored on a grounder to second by junior catcher Sydney Kiser, giving the Lady Lions the early 1-0 lead.
Ward made that run stand up. After giving up a single to Blanchard in the second, Ward retired the Lady Warriors in order the next three innings. She gave up a walk to Millsaps in the sixth with one out, but Cherokee County couldn't bring her around.
Haleyville scored four runs in the bottom half of the sixth. Burleson had a run-scoring single to center that brought home Kiser to give the Lady Lions a 2-0 advantage. Kiser led off the inning by reaching on an error at second. Sophomore outfielder Perri Gilbert loaded the bases with no outs after being hit by a pitch. Davis got sophomore first baseman Tori Pendley to ground to Blanchard, who threw to the plate for the first out of the inning. Seventh-grade shortstop Anna Godsey then grounded to Davis, who threw to Millsaps at the plate for the second out.
Just when it appeared Davis might get out of the inning without any more runs scoring, nine-hole hitter Macy West delivered a three-run double to left, giving Haleyville a 5-0 lead. Davis got Callie Pendley to strike out to end the inning. West led the Lady Lions at the plate by going 2 for 3.
The Lady Warriors had one last chance against Ward. She retired Rosser and Blanchard on pop ups. Moon kept the Lady Warriors alive with a single to center, but Ward rebounded to strike out Chesnut for the final.
"I think the girls kind of felt if we could jump out on Haleyville in the first two or three innings, we might have a shot," Barnes said. "I think we might have gotten gassed after the third inning. I think we had enough to keep going, but once we got to the third inning and hadn't scored yet, I think that kind of took the air out of our sails."
Ward earned the win in the circle after tossing a two-hit shutout. She also had a walk and four strikeouts. Davis suffered the loss for the Lady Warriors.
Barnes said Davis "pitched a great tournament."
"She put us in position to win," he said. "I'd have to say we didn't have a great tournament defensively. We've been pretty solid at that. I'm not going to say that's the reason we lost, because we didn't hit the ball well either that last game, but it didn't help we didn't play good defense."
Davis, Millsaps, Rosser and Brewer represented Cherokee County on the Class 4A All-Tournament Team. Joining Ward from Haleyville was Callie and Tori Pendley.
Following the game, Barnes praised Lady Warrior seniors Blanchard, Bradley and left fielder Haley Free for their contributions to the program. He also thinks the future will continue to be bright.
"Last year, I thought that was the best team we've had," he said. "When we got runner-up last year, everybody was upset. I kind of heard people talking that we wouldn't make it back down here, and that was our only shot. To make it back down here, it's kind of a mixed emotion being runner-up again. Once we got here, we wanted to try and get the blue this year. The runner-up is a good thing. Nobody expected us to be 39-6. We overachieved. Hopefully, some of our younger girls got experience and maybe we can make another run next year."
Davis said the Lady Warriors' second consecutive runner-up serves as motivation for her to make another run next season.
"It's going to make me work harder this summer, and I hope it makes everybody else work harder this summer too," she said. "Maybe we can pull through together as a team next year and hopefully come back here."