State softball: Saks can’t overcome errors, bows out of state tourney after eliminating rival
by Joe Medley
May 18, 2013 | 6410 views |  0 comments | 115 115 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saks' Raegan Nunez can't get the ball in time to get the out on Winfield's Allie Gilmer as she scores a run  during the AHSAA Softball Championships at Lagoon Park in Montgomery on Saturday. The Lady Wildcats lost the game 6-0. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Saks' Raegan Nunez can't get the ball in time to get the out on Winfield's Allie Gilmer as she scores a run during the AHSAA Softball Championships at Lagoon Park in Montgomery on Saturday. The Lady Wildcats lost the game 6-0. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
MONTGOMERY — Taylor West’s last pitch for Saks High didn’t close out another state championship. It didn’t even happen on a softball diamond.

It came minutes after seventh-ranked Saks committed nine errors in losing 6-0 to Winfield in a Class 3A state-tournament elimination game Saturday at Lagoon Park. This time, she spoke with her voice and not her right arm.

After making her way to the team huddle, with her left shoe on and right shoe off, she threw her team a riser.

“You all need to keep your heads up,” the senior told her now former teammates, piercing an awkward silence. “Nobody expected us to even be here.”

After encouraging younger players to work hard and believe in the future without her, she called the Wildcats in for one last 1-2-3, arms-raised cheer.

“If no one wants to say anything, she’s always going to be the one to say it,” Lively said. “That’s her.”

West and Saks said a lot together over her career.

Just a year ago, they left Lagoon Park with a state champion’s trophy. This after West struck out 24 Geneva batters in the winners’ bracket final and threw a perfect game against Pisgah in the championship round.

This season, she finished with 610 strikeouts, just 47 shy of the state record held by Grissom’s Anna Thompson (2005). West owns the fourth-highest season total in Alabama High School Athletic Association fast-pitch history.

She finished her high school career with 1,662 strikeouts.

Before the state tournament, West made a huge impact with her bat in the South Central Regional. She hit two grand slams and a three-run home run in consecutive at bats against Susan Moore, tying four state records.

Perhaps her impact best comes across Lively’s tears and breaking voice as she reflects on West’s career.

“I don’t even think I have the words to describe that girl,” said Lively, West’s head coach in softball and basketball. Lively was an assistant in softball before being promoted after the 2012 season. “I don’t think she realizes what she means to me, but she’s just an amazing athlete and amazing woman.

“I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her future, but she’s been with me since eighth grade. It’s going to be hard to let go.”

West struck out 14 batters and got plenty of run support as Saks reeled off 12 hits and eliminated Calhoun County rival White Plains 7-2 earlier Saturday.

It was in that game that she passed 600 strikeouts for the season, punctuating a high of highs. Saks had lost five of six games against White Plains this season prior to Saturday.

Funny thing about the Saks-White Plains softball rivalry, however. It can leave the winner with exhilaration and not much else.

“I think we pretty much gave it all we had against White Plains,” senior second baseman Kelly Kilgore said. “They were pretty cocky. They knew — or they thought — that they were going to beat us, so we had to give it our all.

“They beat us all year, but we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t go without a fight.”

Saks beat Winfield 2-1 on Friday, but the second game against Winfield could be summed up in a dropped third strike that led to errant throws and two, first-inning runs.

“Mr. (Jody) Whaley, our principal, came over and said it before I could even say it,” Lively said. “We were real emotional that first game and real up for it. No excuse, but we just kind of came down off the mountaintop.”

So marked the season’s end for the defending Class 3A champion, playing in its first year under Lively. She took over after Mike Tucker left for Baldwin County and led Saks back to Montgomery.

“It’s been amazing,” Lively said. “I kind of had some struggles there during basketball season, had a lot of drama going on, and I was questioning my ability to be a good coach.

“This softball team just turned it completely around and just refreshed me and made me feel like this is really what I should be doing.”

The Wildcats finished 33-16-1. They won the Calhoun County tournament, were runner-up to White Plains in the area and the South Central Regional but beat White Plains at state.

Saks advanced deeper in Montgomery than any other area team, finishing fourth in 3A.

“We’ve kind of been doubted a lot,” Lively said. “There were some athletes on the team that quit that didn’t think we were going to be here (at state), didn’t think we were going to be any good.

“Support, it’s hard to get support for these girls. No one gives them any credit. Some people don’t feel like they deserve it. If they came and tried to make it through one of my workouts, they’d realize that they deserve it.”

West’s defiant demeanor in her final words to the team showed how she felt. Talking to a reporter earlier, she pointed out that Saks’ title team of a year ago lost four seniors.

“It was a really good season for us because we were really young,” she said. “I think they’ll be fine next year. They just have to pick up and move on from this game.”

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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