By Chad Dixon
A pair of huge hits and a seven-inning gem of a pitching performance was the right combination to send the Smiths Station Lady Panthers to the AHSAA state tournament for the first time since 2001. Lauren Michaud had a walk-off single to give Smiths Station a 10-9 victory over Enterprise High. Then Bre Cameron tossed one of her best games of the season and Olivia Sinquefield ripped a two-run homerun to lead the Lady Panthers to a 2-1 win over Prattville High to win the South Central Regional Tournament and to earn their spot in the Class 7A state tournament this week at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park.
“Pitching for a team like this year’s is something I am very grateful for. Every time I step on the mound I know if I throw my game, they will play theirs behind me. I’m confident because I know I have a great defense behind me. I see the work they put in at practice and they push me to be the best I can be. We work hard for each other and the trust we have for one another on the field is what has gotten us this far. With that being said, we have more work to do, and I am excited to be a part of this team and have the opportunity to pitch for them,” Cameron said.
Smiths Station jumped to a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the second of Game 1 against Enterprise. Teena Morgan hit a two-run double to center to start the scoring. Bella Galarza, who pinch ran for Morgan, scored later in the inning on a passed ball. Lexi Webb singled and Olivia Sinquefield was hit by a pitch. Sydney Belcher hit a double to center to score Webb and Sinquefield scored on a single by Cameron.
Enterprise cut the lead to 6-2 in the top of the fourth, stunning the Lady Panthers with a seven-run sixth inning to take a 9-6 lead. Smiths Station cut the lead to 9-7 in the bottom of the sixth. Morgan singled to center to start the inning. Michaud doubled and advanced Morgan to third. Kirsten Schwarting hit a sacrifice fly to right to score Morgan.
The stage was set for a dramatic bottom of the seventh. Sinquefield singled and advanced to second on an error by the Enterprise shortstop. Belcher flied out to right, but Sinquefield tagged up and advanced to third on the play. Cameron hit an RBI single past shortstop to score Sinquefield and narrow the lead to 9-8. Alexis Cosgrove singled to put the tying run at second base.
Claire Garney hit into a fielder’s choice. Cosgrove was thrown out at second, but Cameron scored on the play to tie the game at nine. Morgan then walked to place runners at first and second with two out. Michaud hit the first pitch she saw to the right field grass to score Karissa Schnitz and end the game in walk off fashion.
Cameron picked up a no decision. She pitched five innings, surrendered two earned runs on three hits and struck out five. She was 3-for-4 at the plate with two RBI. Cosgrove was also 3-for-4. Morgan was 2-for-3 with two RBI and Webb was 2-for-4. Paige Downing picked up the win. She pitched 1 1/3rd innings out of the bullpen. She struck out two and did not allow a hit.
The Lady Panthers scored a pair in the bottom of the third in Game 2 against Prattville. Schwarting hit a one-out single and scored two batters later when Sinquefield launched a two-run home run to left field.
“To say I am excited is an understatement. We have all worked so hard during the off season, and we are at the point of the season where the hard work is paying off,” Sinquefield said.
“The team set goals at the beginning of the season, and now we have one more to check off the list. I feel so blessed because this team is my favorite one I have ever been a part of, and accomplishing this with them is what makes it so special. But like I said last week, ‘We are still not done!’”
Those two runs was all the run support Cameron needed. She allowed one run over seven complete innings on three hits and fanned 11 Lady Lions. She threw a total of 106 pitches, 73 for strikes. She jumped out 0-1 on 20 of the 28 batters she faced.
The final out of the game was a ground ball to Belcher. She is committed to Anderson University, but realizes she has a lot to play for still wearing black and white.
“I’m just really proud of my team and coaches. We’re a family. We do everything together. This is one of the best teams I have ever played on and all of our hard work and determination is starting to pay off. We’re so thankful for the city of Smiths Station and the people that support us but we want everyone to know we aren’t done yet,” Belcher said.
Smiths Station swept through the Class 7A Area 4 tournament and the South Central Regional. The berth to the state tournament ended the program’s 17-year drought. Smiths Station Athletics Director Sherry Paysinger was the 2001 team’s head coach.
“I am so proud of these ladies and the coaching staff and excited for Smiths Station to get back to that level,” she said. I was very blessed to have such great athletes when I coached to make it to the state playoffs every year. This program is back at the top and can compete.”
The state tournament is ongoing.
See updates at www.thecitizenofeastalabama.com.