They missed their prom because they were busy playing in the North Central Regional at Tuscaloosa’s Sokol Park, and the prize was the Panthers’ first state-tournament berth since 2001 and first in the fast-pitch era. They’ll begin play at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park on Thursday.
Wellborn finished 4-1 in Tuscaloosa and about 30 minutes before the scheduled start of their prom back in Wellborn, about two-and-a-half hours away.
“This is way better than a $400 dress and $50 dinner,” senior first baseman Shae Coley said. “It’s better than my date. It’s better than anything.”
The Panthers (22-17-1) clinched their state tournament berth by rallying from a 3-0 deficit to beat Lamar County 8-4 in Saturday’s losers’ bracket final. This after they beat Cold Springs 9-2 and Calhoun County rival Pleasant Valley 8-5 earlier in the day.
Two qualifiers from each classification in each regional qualify for state, and new rules this year meant that Wellborn didn’t have to play winners’ bracket champion Hale County on Saturday to finish the double-elimination tournament.
The Panthers’ day ended in celebration. They posed for pictures behind the temporary fence and circled with supporters for a prayer. It was a championship atmosphere after the Lamar County game.
“Since I started in seventh grade, this is my goal,” Coley said.
Wellborn coach Brenda Vinson had to fight off tears as she talked to a reporter.
“It’s very special,” she said, “very special to me.”
A Wellborn team starting sixth eighth-graders, including the first four batters in the order, made its first regional appearance since 2010. The Panthers went two-and-out that year.
“That was my first year back, coaching fast-pitch, after I had been an official for an official for four years,” Vinson said. “This is my fourth year back.”
She turned to look at her team lining up for pictures against the outfield fence, and she choked back emotion.
“It’s big,” Vinson said. “It’s real big.”
The decisive victory over Lamar County saw eighth-grader Kamryn Beasley and junior Brooklyn Angle each finish with two hits, and Beasley drove in a run.
Third baseman Carlee Mullinax, another eighth-grader, make a spectacular catch on a liner between bases to spark the Panthers. She also hit a two-run double.
Eighth-graders Taylor Houck and Alyssa Brooks each drove in a run.
Angle, Wellborn’s pitcher throughout the tournament, scattered seven hits over seven innings, keeping Lamar County in check after the Bulldogs scored two runs in the first inning and one in the third.
“She’s thrown a lot of pitches today,” Vinson said, “but she throws steady, and she hit the spots where you ask her to pitch the ball.”
Immediately before the Lamar County game, Wellborn rode a six-run second inning to victory over Pleasant Valley. Beasley and Hembric drove in two runs apiece.
Houck went 3-for-4, and Beasley and Mullinax drove in two runs apiece in Saturday’s opener against Cold Springs. Mullinax and Coley drove in three runs apiece, and thoughts of a prom came up after the game.
“I didn’t even hear the word prom until after we’d won that first one,” Vinson said. “Then we realized we were in such a delay and had to sit out so many games.
“It was one of the younger players, actually. I overheard her. The players that missed it didn’t mention it.”
Said reserve Megan Butcher, the team’s other senior, “This is by far, way better than prom could ever have been.”
Cherokee County advances to state
Cherokee County, Class 4A runner-up the past two years, is bound for the state tournament again after beating Sardis 1-0 in Saturday’s North Central Regional winners’ bracket final.
The Warriors (39-7) won Saturday on catcher Madison Millsaps’ run-scoring double to end the game.
“I just knew that we needed to get this run in,” said Millsaps, who was 2-for-4. “I was just trying not to press and just get a ball in so we can score this run and go back to state.”
Pitcher Tori Davis completed an all-shutout regional, striking out 13 batters and allowing just two hits on seven innings.
For the tournament, Davis allowed just three hits and struck out 45 batters in three games. She threw a perfect game against Cleburne County on Friday.
“I think we’re playing good ball now, and Tori is pitching her best that she’s pitched all year,” Cherokee County coach Travis Barnes said. “To go three games and not give up a single run, that’s outstanding.”
Cherokee County’s Jessen Burk was 2-for-3.
Alexandria falls one game short
Alexandria beat Cleburne County 8-0 and St. Clair County 9-5 in Saturday elimination games before falling 15-1 to Sardis in the losers’ bracket final, one game away from the state tournament.
The Valley Cubs went 3-2 in Tuscaloosa to finish 22-25 for the season after starting 5-15 with an inexperienced lineup.
“I think it’s going to be a stepping stone for next year,” Alexandria coach Brian Hess said. “This will be a totally different group next year. It’ll be more seasoned.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of this group.”
The Valley Cubs fell into the losers’ bracket in their regional opener, losing 10-9 to Sardis on a walk-off, three-run double by Jadie Fobbus on Friday. Alexandria led that game 8-3.
“I’m proud of the way we fought back,” Hess said. “We got down in the losers’ bracket with an emotional game like it was yesterday and being so young, it’s tough.”
The season ended in a two-hitter, with Madison Shanks hitting a triple and Mendi Lash a single in the final game against Sardis pitcher Bethany Chamblee.
Against St. Clair County, Taylor Ellison went 4-for-4, and Kaitlyn Rhodes and Lash each had two hits. On the mound, Rhodes and Ellison combined to spread out 10 Saints hits.
Kaylee Golden and lone senior Amanda Young each drove in two runs against Cleburne County, and freshman pitcher Lauren O’dell struck out three batters and allowed five hits.
The Raiders finished off a 2-2 North Central Regional with an 8-5 loss to Calhoun County rival Wellborn in a Class 2A losers’ bracket game Saturday.
The loss came after Pleasant Valley rallied from an 8-0 deficit to beat Vincent 18-9.
Wellborn scored six runs in the second inning to take a 7-0 lead, but Pleasant Valley battled back with three runs in the third inning, one in the fourth and another in the top of the seventh.
The Raiders had three crucial errors.
“We kind of threw the ball around and made some mistakes, but I can’t fault the girls,” Pleasant Valley coach David Bryant said. “The girls played hard and did the best they could. We just didn’t play our best today.
“But even with the spot and not playing our best and giving up seven runs, we still believed we could win, and they played like it, and we gave ourselves a chance at the end.”
Anna Craven went 3-for-4 against Wellborn and scored three runs. Kara Perry was 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs, and Tiffany Williams drove in a run.
Against Vincent, Christa Lynn came on in relief after the Raiders got down 8-0 in the first inning and allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings. Williams, Perry and Bailey Turner each went 3-for-4, and Savannah Spaulding and Tori Shepard went 2-for-3.
Spaulding, the Raiders’ center fielder, left the Wellborn came after colliding with Williams while making catch. Bryant said she twisted a knee, but it’s uncertain how badly.
Pleasant Valley finished its season 27-13.
The Tigers went 1-2 in the North Central Regional, scoring one run in three games.
After beating Locust Fork 1-0 on Friday, Cleburne County wound up on the wrong end of a perfect game by Cherokee County’s Tori Davis on Friday and a five-hit shutout by Alexandria’s Lauren O’dell on Saturday. Alexandria won 8-0.
“There’s a lot of great pitching up here,” Cleburne County coach Ron Ervin said. “You get to this level, and these kids can throw it.”
Tori Epps, Taylor Estes, Kiara Ackles, Madison Jones and Hannah Gossage each had a hit against Alexandria. Cleburne County finished its season 23-12 with a 4A, Area 10 title.
“I thought this was a great season,” Ervin said. “We’re young. We’ve got freshmen and eighth-graders. We only have three seniors, and we have freshmen, sophomores and eighth-graders filling the rest of the slots. The sky’s the limit for this group.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.