In the small picture, Wellborn’s softball team made its first state tournament appearance since 2001 with six eighth-graders and one senior in the starting lineup.
Sparse hitting cost Wellborn in its 2-0 loss to Lexington in a Class 2A elimination game, and base-running mistakes were big in a 5-2 loss to Goshen in the Panthers’ opener at Lagoon Park.
But Wellborn finished its breakthrough season 22-19-1, and getting to Montgomery as the North Central Regional runner-up was as much about gaining the experience as winning.
“Next year,” said first baseman Shae Coley, the team’s lone senior starter, “I really think we’ll have it in the bag with that young group.”
On Thursday, Wellborn’s youth and the shock of state-level pitching showed itself. The Panthers had 10 hits against Lexington pitcher Jessica Butler but couldn’t overcome the Bears’ two-run fifth inning.
“We didn’t connect on enough hits when we had runners on,” Wellborn coach Brenda Vinson said. “That was the biggest thing.
“We could overcome defensive mistakes and base-running mistakes if we put the ball in play.”
Base-running miscues were big against Goshen.
Wellborn could have had bases loaded in the third inning, but eighth-grader Kamryn Beasley got caught in a rundown between second and third bases for the third out. Eighth-grader Lauren Carroll was thrown out stealing third base for the third out in the fifth inning, after Goshen’s catcher briefly bobbled the ball.
Goshen also pulled off a sixth-inning double play on eighth-grader Alyssa Brooks’ fielder’s choice, forcing Coley out at second base and throwing home to tag Brooklyn Angle.
“On this stage, a lot of times you’re going to get the jitters and the nerves,” Vinson said. “We’re trying to be aggressive. A lot of times, it pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
There were plenty of bright spots for Wellborn, including eighth-grader Carlee Mullinax’s five-hit day. She had three against Lexington.
She said playing in the state-tourney environment as an eighth-grader was “tough.”
“Being out here with all of these bigger --- well not bigger --- these teams that we’ve never faced before?” she said. “I don’t know.”
In other bright spots, Coley drove in a run against Goshen on a nice piece of hitting, holding back for a count on an off-speed pitch then punching it between the third baseman and shortstop.
Angle, a junior, turned in two strong pitching performances. She allowed two hits and no earned runs with three strikeouts against Lexington and spread six hits over six innings with four strikeouts against Goshen.
Angle held Goshen senior Shelby Vinson, who has 16 home runs on the season, to an 0-for-3 showing.
“She pretty much hit the spots we were asking for,” Brenda Vinson said. “We were trying to move the ball around, depending on the batter and what they give us.”
Angle will be back next season, along with every starter but Coley. Wellborn had eighth-graders in the first four spots in the batting order.
“The young talent coming up for this team is amazing,” Coley said. “They play with their hearts, everything they have, and that’s all that matters.
“You don’t have to have all of the ability. You just have to have the heart. They put ability and heart together, and that’s an awesome package.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.