Lady Gators are state champs

Lady Gators are state champs

View the photo gallery here

By Ronald Frazier

When pinch runner Chloe Enfinger took off from second to third on a ground out by Sophie Wilkerson in the bottom of the seventh, Glenwood coach Dusty Perdue admitted it was her decision to go.

“But when the throw was off after she slid in, I told her to take off,” said Perdue after the game. Enfinger dashed to home, slid in safely and handed Glenwood a 4-3 win and the 2019 state AISA class AAA title over Macon East at Lagoon Park.

“I felt I could make it,” said Enfinger to the press after the game.

“I won’t take credit for Enfinger’s decision to advance but I did tell her when I put her in to pinch run that she was going to score the run that would win it and she did just that,” Perdue reported after the game.

The play may have been a surprise to Macon East as the Lady Gators had three runners thrown out trying to advance earlier in the contest, including one at home plate but Perdue was adamant.

“Absolutely, we want to be aggressive on the base paths. That’s the way we played all year and that’s the way we won,” said Perdue. “If you look at the statistics, 56 per cent of balls in play are misplayed and they (Macon East) were on their third game of the day.”

Perdue had preached all week to stay out of the losers’ bracket and that’s what the Lady Gators did, winning all four games in the tournament and finishing with a stellar 43-10-1 record on the year and the school’s fourth state title in the last five years.

For her mound efforts, senior Ashley Gallant, who pitched three complete games victories in the tournament was named the tournament’s MVP. It was a vindication for Gallant who had an injury in last year’s tournament and was unable to pitch on the last day of the tournament as the Lady Gators were the 2018 runner-up. 

Also making the all-star team were Carle Hampton, who had the other pitching win for Glenwood, Hope Gullatt and Ariana Pinder.

“I was really happy for Ashley and for our seven seniors. Some of these players had been with me for seven years.” said Perdue.

“In the previous years we had a dominant pitcher, Olivia McLemore in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and McKenna Gillespie in 2015, 2016, 2017. Ashley is more of a finesse and control pitcher but she did the job time and again,” said Perdue.

“Ashley pitched damage control. We were not going to shut them (Macon East) down completely but they never had a big inning. We made some plays behind her including in the outfield, where that is not our defensive strength but behind Ashley they backed her up,” Perdue pointed out.

Hampton made one of those plays in the outfield as she went back against Macon East in the winner’s bracket finals and took a home run away from Madisyn Kennedy in right, taking out the fence as she caught the ball. Kennedy has signed to play softball with Mississippi State in the SEC.

“That play, as well as her other defense, probably was the reason she was voted on the all-star team,” Perdue said.

Hampton was the opening day pitcher for Glenwood’s first game of the tournament as the Lady Gators faced No. 3 seed from Region 2—Russell Christian, a team they had not faced before.

With Neely Austin pacing the hitting attack, and Hampton hurling a complete game, the Lady Gators won big, 8-1. Austin was 3-for-4 with three doubles, knocking in two runs from her leadoff position. Hampton also had an RBI in the victory.

Hampton pitched seven innings allowed only two hits and struck out nine. She did walk five batters and threw a wild pitch but faced no more than five batters in any inning as the Glenwood defense was spotless. Hampton improved to 10-2 on the year as the No. 2 starter.

“Carle’s arm was fresh and she felt good and that way, I could save Ashley for the next game,” said Perdue after the first win of the tournament.”Neely had been in a slump hitting lately and she broke out of that.”

The next contest was the Region 2 champion, who also won their first game in the tournament, Bessemer Academy. The Lady Rebels started Joann Barnett, a pitcher the Lady Gators had faced and had lost to during the regular season.

But the Lady Gators hit Barnett with a five-run third inning sparked by senior Morgan Grant’s single to start things off, sent nine batters to the plate and overcoming Bessemer’s 1-0 lead for a 5-1 advantage.

“Carle and Hope were patient at the plate. They waited and got big hits for us in that third inning which was huge,” said Perdue of the win.

“This was the pressure game that we needed to win so we did not have to drop into the loser’s bracket,” Perdue said. “When Ashley got those runs, everyone relaxed and we added on when we could.”

Glenwood tacked on three more runs in the sixth and Bessemer got a run in the seventh as the Gators went on to an 8-2 victory.

Gallant got her first complete game striking out five while walking only one and hitting the first batter of the game that led to the Lady Rebels first run.

That ended play for Day 1, setting up the first contest between Macon East and Glenwood in the winner’s bracket finals.

The game looked to be a pitching duel as Macon East had Julie Thames starting, the pitcher that one-hit the Lady Gators the previous week for the Region One championship and the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

“I told our players to relax and just do what you do. Ashley did a great job against a strong hitting club, and we got early runs again. Everyone relaxed, and we played and hit up and down the lineup,” Perdue said of his team’s big 9-3 victory in  the Lady Gators third game of the tournament. 

Thames had retired the first eight batters she faced against Glenwood before Grant got things started again, coaxing a walk with two outs. What followed was a hitting barrage, with Austin hitting a single, Pinder hitting a double, scoring two and Hampton following with another double for another RBI and Gullatt lacing a triple in right field for run No. 4 and a 4-0 lead.

Gullatt made it 6-0 with a two-run homer two innings later. It would be her 52nd home run of her career to tie Glenwood’s Kayla Niles for the career record and the only home run hit by the Lady Gators in the tournament.

Macon East finally got on the scoreboard with three runs in the fifth that cut the lead to 6-3, but Glenwood did not stop as they scored two more in the sixth and another run in the seventh for the 9-3 final score.

“When we scored two more in the sixth after they just cut the lead to 6-3, that was big for our team. It showed we were not going to quit,” Perdue pointed out.
Macon East then faced Bessemer for the right to play Glenwood for the state title and eliminated the Lady Rebels.

In the championship game, the Lady Knights used a surprise starter, sophomore Taylor McKinney, the standout leadoff player that also played second base. The sophomore may have felt the pressure as she walked three of the first four batters she faced and then hit Mae Durham with a pitch with the bases loaded to force in a run. After five batters, Macon East returned Caroline Capps to the mound, who was the winning pitcher against Bessemer. Gallant laced a two-run single that made it 3-0 and Enfinger, running for Wellsley Henderson, was thrown out at second after overrunning the bag for the third out. Lacie Pelt, running for Durham, was also thrown out in the first when she tried to score on a passed ball. 

Macon East scored single runs in the first and second to make it 3-2 and scored the tying run in the fourth to make it 3-3 and set the stage for the seventh  inning.

That win also made Gallant 26-3 on the year. 

“I could have played for the ITB (International Tie Breaker), since we were the home team. But I decided we were going for the win. Ashley had a good sacrifice to get Enfinger to second and Sophie (Wilkerson) does not strike out. She puts the ball in play and that’s exactly what she did,” Perdue said of his team’s winning efforts.