ACA, LAMP advance to softball regionals
By Tim Gayle
Chris Goodman had already made hotel reservations for the Alabama High School Athletic Association South Regional softball tournament next week in Gulf Shores. The Alabama Christian Academy coach and his players make an annual pilgrimage to the softball postseason.
After making an incredible run through the 4A Area 4 tournament bracket to reach the finals, LAMP coach Anthony Norris needed some assistance from Goodman.
“I was on his cell phone, making hotel reservations,” Norris said. “He was helping me because I had not made them yet.”
By the time LAMP had accomplished the unthinkable and squared off with ACA at Denise Ainsworth Field, the Golden Tigers had their ace pitcher and starting catcher on the bench nursing injuries, making the Eagles’ 10-0 romp in six innings a little easier but doing little to tarnish LAMP’s remarkable run.
“I’m humbled at the teams I’ve coached because they’re always better than I think they are,” said Norris, whose Golden Tigers are making their fifth consecutive trip to the regionals. “I thought I was going to get left out. Those girls got us in. Again.”
ACA (52-5) made it look easy by outscoring three opponents 22-1 to capture the area tournament title. Lacy Spear (25-2) lowered her team-leading earned run average to 0.89 and raised her strikeout total to 264 by striking out 11 Tigers, hitting double-digit strikeout numbers for the 13th time this season.
“I’m fortunate enough that I’ll roll out a right hander (Spear) one day and a left hander (Haley Pittman) the next day and both of them have (low) ERAs,” Goodman said. “It’s really easy to play with those two. Each one of them have thrown, if not the exact amount of games, almost the exact amount.”
But there was nothing unexpected in ACA’s run to the title.
“We had not been playing particularly well coming into this area tournament,” Norris said. “We had not won many games. To win two yesterday back to back and then today…
“We had played the worst game of the season in the first game (of the area tournament) against Trinity, the worst one I’ve ever coached at LAMP. And then we probably played the best game of the season today against Catholic to beat them. We put it all together today.”
LAMP pitcher Caroline Baker kept the Eagles off balance early as ACA went through the lineup twice with just three hits and three unearned runs. In the fourth, consecutive two-out singles by Schylur Edwards and Pittman made it 4-0 and ACA blew it open in the fifth as a one-out single by Natalie Faulkner and a walk to Spear was followed by five consecutive singles and a 9-0 lead. ACA ended the game on the 10-run mercy rule in the sixth as LAMP made three consecutive errors to close out the game.
“I would really like to see the area tournament changed to a qualifier like the region tournament,” Goodman said, “where if you come through the winner’s bracket you don’t have to play each other so many times. That’s the third time we’ve played LAMP. The last couple of years, we’ve been in (the area) with Beauregard in 5A and we’ve probably played each other 14 or 15 times. We won 80 percent of them, but they got us one time in the final four and one time in the region final.”
Both teams advance to the South Region tournament at the Gulf Shores Sportsplex on May 11-13. Both teams will open play on Thursday, May 11, at 10:30 a.m. LAMP will face Dale County, while ACA will play Ashford.
“We’ve got to get better on our short game,” Goodman said. “We’ll spend some time early next week working on short game defense and offense. There’s going to come a time when you’ll face a pitcher like one of ours and it will be a one-run game and you’re going to have to get a bunt down. And we’ve got some base-running issues at times that we still have to clean up.’