ACA softball hopes to build on 2017 finish
By Tim Gayle
It wasn’t what they set out to do, but Alabama Christian’s third-place finish in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 4A state softball tournament was an accomplishment for the five senior Lady Eagles.
“We’ve won a bunch of tournaments, we had a great year,” ACA coach Chris Goodman said. “You’ve got to get lucky when you get here. We were not lucky. You’ve just got to get two-out hits in championship play.”
Alabama Christian (58-7) won the opener in the state tournament with a convincing 9-2 win over Wilson, then lost to eventual state champion Northside, 4-2. The Eagles rebounded to beat Satsuma 16-5 on Friday night and Cordova 6-0 on Saturday morning before being eliminated by Westminster Christian 2-0.
It marked the 16th time in 20 playoff appearances that Alabama Christian has either reached the finals of the elimination bracket or the finals. But suffering losses on consecutive days is hard to accept for a team that lost just five in 60 games. The Eagles lost their second game in early March to Lawrence County, then rattled off 12 consecutive wins before losing to 4A state tournament participant White Plains, then another 27 wins before losing twice to 6A state champion Daphne.
Against Westminster, Haley Pittman pitched a five-hitter and lost, following a script from Friday’s action in which the leadoff batter, in this case Olivia Aycock, reached base in all three plate appearances. Aycock was stranded at third in the first inning, scored on a two-out disputed single by Annie Willis in the third and reached first base again in the fifth.
Lauren McCoy added a valuable insurance run in the sixth on a solo home run to center field.
Both runs drew the ire of Goodman, who contested Willis’ single down the first-base line was foul and that officials held up the game in the middle of McCoy’s at-bat to discuss the media box in the left field foul territory, throwing Pittman out of rhythm.
The veteran coach said the difference in the game, however, was Alabama Christian’s shortcomings at the plate. Four times, the leadoff batter reached base and all four times was stranded at second base. In a scenario reminiscent of Friday’s loss to Northside, the Eagles were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
“You’ve got to have a two-out hit when it counts,” Goodman said. “They’ve got a great pitcher (Willis) – I’m glad she’s graduating – but there were two very questionable umpire calls that I had better not say much about. But 0 for 16 with runners in scoring position, you’re not going to win very many tournaments doing that.”
After the first loss in the tournament, a 4-2 setback to Northside in the second round, 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 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. In the loss to Northside, Pittman struck out 11 but allowed eight hits, including a solo home run by Alex Green and a pair of RBI singles by Carson Beatty. 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 Schylur 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.
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. Edwards, who was the most prolific ACA player in the tournament, 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. Counting those three runs, the senior center fielder’s bat drove six runs in and scored four more while going 6 for 12.
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.
After the loss to Northside, the Eagles rebounded nicely with a 16-5 win over Satsuma, ending the game in the sixth inning on the 10-run mercy rule.
“You have to have two-out hits in the playoffs to win games,” 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.”
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.
In the 6-0 win over Cordova on Saturday morning, Spear improved to 3-0 in the state tournament, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning before a grounder by Kaitie Jo Richardson at second base was ruled a hit. Baylee Perkins went 4 for 4 and scored twice, Nickolson went 2 for 3 and drove in a pair of runs and Rose Costanza went 2 for 3.
Nickolson’s two-out double scored Edwards in the first inning and Perkins scored in the second on an error before Nickolson added another RBI hit to make it 3-0. In the fourth, Spear doubled and Perkins followed with an RBI double, scoring on a single by Pittman for a 5-0 lead.