By Mark Clark
It was a match-up Central High coach Mitchell Holt knew was not good for his team, but he also knew the only way to advance in the South Central Regional tournament was to get past the Prattville High Lions. The task was just too much for the Lady Red Devils. Prattville defeated Central twice in the tournament to gain the final spot in the state tournament this week at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park.
Prattville opened the tournament by defeating Central 14-4 – incidentally, the same score the Lions beat the Lady Red Devils by during the regular season. Then in the final game of the tournament in Class 7A with a state tournament spot on the line, the Lions beat Central 11-2.
In between the two losses, Central beat Enterprise High 10-7 to get a last chance for the state tournament and a last chance to beat Prattville in 2018.
“Going into the regional, I felt our toughest match-up would be Prattville. What we did best was the same thing they did best this season. This season, they were better at it than we were,” Holt said of the Lions.
Holt said his team’s youth showed in the first game of the tournament. The Lady Red Devils were their own worst enemy with eight errors.
“We had a long talk after the loss to Prattville in the first game. It was not about losing, but rather about how we were going to handle that failure and adversity, Losing is usually about how you handle failures. We did not respond well to our early failures in that game. I really think that the game will serve as a great turning point for our underclassmen for next season and for seasons beyond,” Holt said.
The Lady Red Devils showed how well they could respond after failures in their victory over Enterprise. Down 3-0 to the Lady Wildcats after the top of the second inning, Central exhibited life that had not been shown against Prattville. The Lady Red Devils erased the 3-0 deficit with a seven-run outburst.
In the bottom of the second for Central, Kyleigh McHargue and Gracie Deaton both had singles to begin the comeback. Nayelica Diaz reached on an error that loaded the bases. Briana Murray also reached base on an error that drove in McHargue and Mckinnon Howard, a pinch runner for Deaton. Tatyana Harris reached on a fielder’s choice when the Lady Wildcats attempted to get Diaz at the plate on the play. Diaz was safe and the game was tied at 3-3. With one out, Madison Hurt grounded out which allowed Summer Lawrence, running for Murray, to score. Shelby Newsome drew a walk and Jaleigh Hardin was hit by a pitch that loaded up the bases once more. McHargue got her second hit of the inning to drive home Harris and Newsome. Deaton followed with a single to drive home Bailey Davis, running for Hardin. McHargue was thrown out at third attempting to advance for the third out, but Central led 7-3.
Central upped its margin to five runs in the fourth inning. McHargue singled, Deaton reached on an error and Diaz singled to drive in McHargue to make the score 8-3.
Enterprise added two runs in the top of the fifth inning to cut Central’s lead to 8-5. But, Central got both runs back in the sixth inning. Hardin and McHargue both reached base on errors. Deaton followed with a single to score Davis, running for Hardin. With two outs, Murray singled to drive in Carleigh Dades, running for Deaton. Central led 10-5.
Enterprise, again, scored a pair of ruins in the seventh to make the final score 10-7. Deaton was the winning pitcher. She went the distance inside the circle. At the plate, McHargue and Deaton were each 3-for-4 and both had two RBI. Newsome and Murray were each 1-for-3. Newsome had a double. Kristen White, Diaz and Harris were all 1-for-4.
The win over Enterprise put Central in the final game of the 7A division against Prattville for the final state tournament spot from the South Central Regional. Central played hard, but could not handle Prattville the entire game and lost 11-2. Central tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the second inning when McHargue, who singled, scored on a double by Diaz. Central scored once more in the fifth inning. Down 5-1 with one out, Hurt tripled and scored on a single by Hardin. Central did not score again.
Hurt was 2-for-4 with her triple. Hardin, McHargue, Diaz and Harris were each 1-for-3. White was 1-fr-4.
In the opener with Prattville, Newsome was 3-for-3 with a double, a triple and two RBI. Harris was 1-for-2. White and McHargue were 1-for-3 each.
Against Prattville this season, Central committed 18 errors in three games – mostly on throwing errors attempting to keep the Lions’ speed in check.
“I was proud of how the girls fought back against Enterprise. We had our chances to give up and repeat what happened in the Prattville game, but we didn’t. It was great to see that fight. Because of that effort, we were able to extend our season another game,” Holt said.
Central ended the season with a 27-24-1 record. The team loses just two senior starters – Deaton and Harris.
“We lose two special girls from this team – Gracie and Tatyana. He two of them had a great six years on the varsity. They will be missed. Tatyana will head to CVCC to play next season and will be successful. She will be successful if she decides to play beyond her two years at CVCC. She has a fire inside her to be great. Gracie is a special kid. Her work ethic, drive and focus will lead her to accomplish her dreams. She will play at the University of Alabama-Huntsville next season and will contribute. Our returning players will have some experience to build upon. We started seven kids who were sophomores or younger. The pitchers who will return with the most experience are seventh and eighth grade athletes. This past season was one of transition. At times you could see the torch being passed to the younger players. It does not always lead to wins when this happens, but it is exciting to see and it means our future will be improved,” Holt said.
Smiths Station was the South Central Regional champion with wins over Enterprise and Prattville. Prattville took the second slot in the state playoffs from the regional. Unless weather interfered, the two teams began play on Wednesday. The Class 7A champion will be determined today.