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By Mark Clark
For the sixth consecutive season – and for the 10th time in the past 11 years – the Central High Lady Red Devils advanced to the regional level of the AHSAA’s playoff system. The Lady Red Devils defeated Smiths Station twice in the Area 4 Tournament to take the runner-up plaque and to earn the trip to Oxford for the East Central Regional.
“A regional appearance is a standard for our program and an expectation for our players. It’s never easy to get there, but it’s a testament to all of the players, coaches and parents the past 11 years that put in the work to set this standard,” Central coach Mitchell Holt said.
And just as the Lady Red Devils had to do in the area tournament, they must win two games before losing two games in the regional. Central will face Prattville High’s Lady Lions in the opening round of the East Central Regional at 10 a.m. EDT today.
Central reached the regional with its second victory over Smiths Station in the area tournament. Central won the contest 10-3 to eliminate the Lady Panthers and to win a spot in the regional. The Lady Red Devils defeated Smiths Station 8-7 in the first game of the Area 4 Tournament. Central lost to Auburn 13-5 after its first win over Smiths Station. After beating Smiths Station the second time, the Lady Red Devils needed to defeat Auburn twice to win the tournament and the top seed from the area in the regional tournament. That was not to be as Central lost 1-0 to the Lady Tigers and finished as the runner-up and No. 2 seed from the area for the regional.
“I am very proud of how the players responded during the area tournament. We got a great pitching performance from Lane Thaxton. We were able to get out to a comfortable lead thanks in a large part to Jaleigh Hardin and Lane both hitting home runs. We also played pretty stellar defense in the early innings. Fallyn Jordan, despite dealing with an injury, put on a clinic at shortstop. Smiths Station was able to cut into the lead and get within one run late. I was so proud we weathered that storm. It was good to see us get that last out,” Holt said.
With the first game victory in hand, Central faced Auburn – the tournament host and regular season Area 4 champion – and could have secured its postseason slot with a second victory on the tournament. Instead, Auburn secured its spot with a 13-5 win. The second game with Smiths Station was not as close as the first one and Central eliminated the Lady Panthers with a 10-3 victory.
“After that loss to Auburn, we challenged our team to respond against our rival again. We told them the first game only mattered if we won the second game. It was one of the most emotional games of the year. On Wednesday, I told the girls to expect Smiths Station to take the lead at some point and to be prepared to battle back,” Holt said.
Holt was right about Smiths Station gaining the lead. The Lady Panthers took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. However, Central scored three runs in each of the next three innings to secure the victory. Madison Hurt led Central with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate and hit her first home run. Kyleigh McHargue was 2-for-3 and Bailey Davis was 2-for-4 for Central. In the first win over Smiths Station, Hurt was 2-for-2 and Hardin was 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a home run. Thaxton also had a home run. In the 13-5 loss to Auburn, Thaxton went 1-for-2 to lead Central at the plated in the loss. She also led her team in the 1-0 loss to Auburn, going 1-for-1.