First, the Panthers get a rematch with Calhoun County rival White Plains, which beat Wellborn in the 2009 regional.
Second, it marks Brenda Vinson’s first regional game in her personally triumphant return as Wellborn’s coach.
Either way the story line cuts, a victory Friday at 11 a.m. at Vestavia Hills’ Liberty Park brings a surge of Panther Pride.
“They’re psyched,” Vinson said of her players. “It’s a big statement. To make it back to regional is a big accomplishment because there’s a lot of people that are not there.
“Then, to get to face someone in our own county, to me, a win will make a big statement.”
Perhaps no one is more eager to make a statement than Vinson.
She lost the softball gig at Wellborn after the 2005 season, when the Panthers won 26 games and reached the postseason. She continued to teach physical education and coach other volleyball. She picked up girls’ basketball this past season.
As Wellborn worked through three head softball coaches between 2005 and this season, Vinson took up umpiring to stay in touch with the game.
Rick Carter was hired as Wellborn’s principal last year. Carter, who revved up the base by hiring Wellborn grad Jeff Smith back to coach football, asked Vinson to resume coaching softball.
She was glad to be asked.
“I love the game,” she said. “I love Wellborn. It wasn’t my choice that I wasn’t coaching for four years.”
The Panthers are 20-16 in her first year back, a so-so record until examining things more closely. They share Class 3A, Area 9 with Birmingham-area schools.
The Panthers have also played 12 games against teams from higher classifications — three in the Nike Gulf Coast Classic, which immediately followed the Calhoun County tournament.
“The first day, we took three big losses,” Vinson said. “The second day, we won. I think it made us better.
“I just hope we’re firing on all cylinders.”
The Panthers are definitely fired up, partly because of how last season ended.
“I just remember everybody giving up,” said senior first baseman and cleanup hitter Whitney O’Brien. “We weren’t as close last year.
“I think our team this year is really close. We’ve come together this year.”
Junior pitcher/outfielder Megan Hubbard puts it more bluntly.
“We have better coaching this year,” she said.
The fact that Friday’s regional opener serves up White Plains adds something for the Panthers. They beat the Wildcats during the 2009 regular season but lost in the regional, 10-6, in an elimination game.
“It was frustrating to me because they were from our county,” Hubbard said.
The two teams have not played this season. White Plains (26-8) won the Area 10 tourney last week at home. Wellborn was Area 9 runner-up to homestanding Leeds.
“If we go down,” Vinson said, “we’re going down together.”
For Vinson and Wellborn softball, it’s good to be together again.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 235-3576 or email@example.com.