The 4:30 start time came and went. Both teams were warmed up and ready to play, but the umpires hadn’t arrived.
That’s what White Plains coach Rachel Ford and Cherokee County coach Travis Barnes were discussing just past first base. Wildcats assistant coach Chris Randall paced the left field foul line, on his cell phone attempting to reach any umpires who could arrive quickly enough.
“It’s frustrating because I feel like we’re wasting some valuable time,” Ford said.
Ford wanted a little work for her team before today, which marks the beginning of the Calhoun County softball tournament. Although White Plains is Class 3A, the county coaches selected the Wildcats as the tournament’s top seed.
That’s a big compliment, considering 3A No. 10 Saks is seeded second, 2A No. 4 Pleasvant Valley is third, and 6A Oxford is fourth.
“It was very nice to see some coaches show us some respect, but it doesn’t mean anything until you prove it,” said Ford, whose team never did get to play Monday. “It kind of puts the bull’s-eye on us, and we’re going to get everyone’s best. We’re going to have to show up and play every game.”
Ranked sixth in the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Class 3A poll, the Wildcats have compiled a 14-8 record, with losses coming to only two 3A schools, including fourth-ranked Good Hope and Saks. The rest of the losses have come to Class 5A and 6A schools.
“We haven’t been playing that well and I think we needed that chip on our shoulder to get through these games and get past Saks next time,” White Plains center fielder MiKayla Owen said.
It was Saks that gave White Plains its most recent loss. Ford said it “bothered the girls” and called it a “wake-up call.”
Days before defeating White Plains, Saks coach Michelle Lively followed the bracket closely, discovering they would face White Plains in the semifinals. That’s when Saks faced White Plains in the county tournament last season, as well. White Plains won that game and then did it again the championship.
It was the first time the Wildcats had won the county softball tournament.
“That was definitely an awesome feeling of being a part of something,” pitcher Anna Snider said. “But now it’s this year, so we have to show up and play ball.”
Snider has held down the mound for White Plains this season while also leading the team in batting. Owen, shortstop Sophie Taylor and injured catcher Morgan Cobb also have hit well. But it’s the team chemistry that works best for the Wildcats.
“I feel like the girls get along really well, and that’s a big thing,” Ford said. “Sometimes you have some talent, but the girls might have some drama, and I haven’t had to deal with that this year. They enjoy each other company and I think that makes them fit harder.”
It will take hard work if White Plains wants to repeat as county champions. Saks figures that even with wins over the Wildcats and Pleasant Valley this season, it still has plenty to gain.
“We feel like they have something to prove because they don’t think they get recognized a lot,” Lively said. “That’s kind of feeding them when they play county schools in tournaments and things like that. I think they play a little bit more up.”
Despite the strong field, White Plains still enters the tournament with confidence,.
“We want to prove to people they are the No. 1 seed,” Ford said. “But I know we’re going to have a fight on our hands. We’re going to hold our own. People have doubted us this year. We want to prove that we are what we want to be.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star