ACA in survival mode on second day of AHSAA tourney
By Tim Gayle
After an unexpected loss to Northside in the second round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 4A state softball tournament, senior Laura Nickolson and her Alabama Christian teammates had a heart-to-heart talk.
“We’re holding each other accountable and making sure everybody is on the fence, yelling and cheering on the team and bringing the intensity and staying in the game,” the senior first baseman said.
The Eagles rebounded from the unexpected loss to Northside with an 11-run rout in Friday’s final game to put themselves in position for another championship run on Saturday.
ACA (57-6) advanced to the final four of the state tournament for the seventh time in nine years as a Class 4A program and will face Cordova at 10:30 a.m. The winner will face the loser of the Northside-Westminster Christian game at noon in the finals of the elimination round. The winner of the noon game will play for the state championship at 3 p.m. A second game, if necessary, will immediately follow.
“You have to have two-out hits in the playoffs to win games,” ACA coach Chris Goodman said. “We didn’t get them down there (on Field 6 in the loss to Northside), we came back up here (against Satsuma) and we swung the bats well tonight. Our pitchers threw well, our pitcher threw well (against Northside), we’ve just got to find a way to come back tomorrow and battle.”
In the tournament opener, the Eagles used an aggressive bunting attack to down Wilson 9-2. Natalie Faulkner went 3 for 3 with three bunt singles, driving in the game’s first run in the second inning. Schylur Edwards hit a bases-loaded fly to center field that was dropped, allowing three more runs to score in the fourth to give ACA a 7-0 lead.
Lacey Spear, who had a two-run single in the fifth, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the first by striking out the next five batters, part of a nine-strikeout, six-hit performance in the circle.
In the second game, Haley Pittman struck out 11 but allowed eight hits, including a solo home run by Alex Green and RBI singles by Carson Beatty in a 4-2 loss to Northside. Leadoff hitter Riley Grace Honeycutt went 3 for 3 and scored each time to keep the Rams in the winner’s bracket.
ACA, meanwhile, stranded nine runners on base in five of the final six innings, driving in two runs with a home run by Edwards in the third but failing to come up with the key hit in the other innings, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
The Eagles rebounded nicely with a 16-5 win over Satsuma, ending the game in the sixth inning on the 10-run mercy rule. ACA trailed 2-0 after the first inning and 4-3 after the second, but Pittman’s two-run home run put the Eagles ahead for good. A two-run home run by Spear capped a three-run second inning and Nickolson put the exclamation point on the rout with a three-run bomb to center field in the fifth.
“It felt great,” Nickolson said. “I didn’t really expect it. I swung as hard as I could and started running.”
Nickolson went 4 for 5 with four RBIs, Kaytlyn Podein went 4 for 4 and scored twice, Edwards went 3 for 4 and scored three times and Pittman went 3 for 5 with four RBIs. Spear picked up her second win in three innings of work, allowing five hits while striking out six. Pittman pitched the final three innings, allowing two hits and striking out four.
ACA will have to win four consecutive games in the heat of the day to capture its first state title since 2009, but by alternating Spear and Pittman, Goodman thinks his team has a legitimate shot.
“There’s no doubt, with this heat going on, we may have the best advantage out here,” he said. “We’ve got two really good ones that can come out and win any game for us. We’ve just got to find a way to get them some runs.”