The Lady Wildcats won back-to-back games on about three hours sleep Saturday after a late first day in the regional tourney to get back into the championship bracket this past Saturday.
Rather than risk injury, coach Mike Tucker decided to rest starting pitcher Taylor West and catcher Rebecca Bowen, all but handing rival White Plains the region title before a 15-3 loss in five innings.
Saks looked refreshed and rejuvenated Tuesday as the Wildcats practiced in preparation for their fourth straight appearance in the state tournament today at Lagoon Park in Montgomery. The Wildcats will face Trinity today at 10:30 a.m. to start what they hope is a march toward a state title.
“The day before the regional tournament we had one of our best practices, if not our best practice,” Tucker said. “They were very attentive. They know what’s at stake and how important it is.”
With five days since their last marathon session of games, the Lady Wildcats are faring well physically. They’ll be without the services of backup catcher Laken Haynes, who went down with a broken wrist earlier in the season.
“The injuries I was concerned with Saturday were a slight sprain here or a pulled hamstring there as a result of playing six games in 20 hours,” Tucker said.
West was dominant in the two games she started leading up to the final Saturday. She turned in a one-hit shutout in a 6-0 win against Carbon Hill. She followed that performance by striking out 13 in a 6-1 victory against Winfield before shutting it down for the day, having secured her team’s spot in the state tournament.
“We got really down after that first loss. Then we decided that we were going to get up for the rest of our games,” West said. “It was we either play or go home. Our seniors weren’t ready to give up.”
West, a junior, is 31-10 on the season. She’s struck out 450 batters in 257 innings of work, allowing 28 runs for an 0.76 ERA. Opposing offenses are batting .116 against the 6-foot-1 hurler. She’s batting .400 with 54 hits, including nine doubles and 10 home runs, and has driven in 44 runs.
Kelly Kilgore is batting .408 on 58 hits, both team-highs. She’s got 19 RBIs, 13 doubles, two triples and two home runs.
Heading into the state tournament, Tucker said he feels as if this could be the Lady Wildcats most legitimate shot a state championship since former standout Cara Law’s senior four years ago.
“Kabrina Snell, Rebecca Bowen, Haley Cobb and Taylor West have all played key roles on state tournament teams the past three years,” Tucker said. “Their experience is definitely going to be a factor.”
Should things work out as both teams plan, there could be another meeting with White Plains, a team Saks still thinks it can beat despite seven losses to their Calhoun County rival this season.
“I feel like we’ve got a really, really good shot,” West said.
“White Plains is the No. 1 team in the state and they’ve only beaten us by one run a lot of the times we’ve played them.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.