Bigger things lie ahead.
Saks’ West and Cherokee County’s Millsaps rested their arms, and Cherokee County made it a four-game sweep through the Class 4A North Central Regional, winning 13-3 in six innings at Liberty Park.
Each team qualified for this week’s state tourney by making the final round of the regional, joining Class 1A North Central Regional champion Ragland among area teams to make it.
Unranked Saks and No. 3 Cherokee County will bring a hot pitcher to Lagoon Park, so each coach figured why not save his team’s best arm?
“Taylor West had pitched five games, 35 innings, and had only given up four runs in five games, and three of those were unearned, and against this kind of competition” Saks coach Mike Tucker said of his prized freshman, who helped Saks (43-19) go 4-2 in the tournament.
“They asked me who would be your MVP had we won, and Taylor West would have been my MVP,” said Tucker, who also rested other starters. “And it wasn’t that we were giving up, but my players were exhausted, and we didn’t want to get anybody hurt going into state.”
Millsaps was the 4A regional’s MVP, striking out 30 batters in the three games she pitched — victories against West Point, Saks and No. 4 Alexandria. She ran her record to 25-4, and Cherokee County improved to 39-9.
“We rested her this game just to see what would happen,” Cherokee County coach Travis Barnes said.
Malorie Rosser got the victory in the championship game and went 2-for-5 with two RBIs at the plate.
Kaitlyn Griffith went 3-for-3 with a home run and two doubles and Cayla Machleit went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
Freshman Kelly Kilgore provided Saks’ biggest highlight in the final, hitting a two-run single.
That was the small picture.
The big picture shows two 4A teams with hot pitchers going into the biggest tournament of the year.
Millsaps had five strikeouts in a 3-0 victory against Alexandria earlier Saturday, securing Cherokee County’s spot in the final round. On Friday, she fanned 13 in a first-round shutout of West Point and 12 in a 1-0 victory against Saks.
“We just worked hard this week, working on some things with my pitching and correcting things,” Millsaps said. “My team behind me helped me out a lot.”
West had five strikeouts in a 6-0 victory against Haleyville early Saturday. She threw a two-hitter in a 4-1 victory against Cleburne County and a three-hitter with four strikeouts in a complete-game, 4-2 victory against Alexandria.
She said she needed the rest she got in Saturday’s final round, especially after winning a dramatic showdown with Calhoun County rival Alexandria.
The Lady Wildcats were down 2-1 going into the sixth inning, but Miranda Kilgore knocked in the tying run with a sacrifice fly. Laura Roberts and Kyla Goedde delivered run-scoring hits in the seventh inning.
That victory secured Saks’ state tourney berth.
“It was very big,” West said. “That’s one of our biggest rivals, Alexandria.”
Saks and Cherokee County will open state tourney play Friday in Montgomery. They will play the South Regional winner and runner-up, which were not known as of deadline Saturday.
While Saks and Cherokee County will boast hot pitchers going into the state tournament, No. 3 Ragland brings hot bats. In seven postseason games dating back to the area tournament, the Lady Purple Devils have scored 85 runs.
That includes a 12-0 victory against South Lamar in Saturday’s 1A North Central Regional final.
Tournament MVP Sommar Wright was among three Ragland players who went 3-for-4 in the game. She also pitched a two-hitter with four strikeouts.
Emily Church went 2-for-4, including her 22nd home run of the season.
“It’s just understanding where the sweet spot is,” Ragland coach Jonathan Nix said of the Lady Purple Devils’ hot hitting. “We went over that the first of the year, and that’s all we practice is trying to figure out the sweet spot and timing.
“They just practice that over and over. We do a lot of reps on the tee, and they just believe they can hit anybody.”
Ragland has won 25 of its past 26 games going into the state tournament.
Of Ragland’s 23 different opponents this season, 18 either won area titles or finished as runner-up, Nix said. Their schedule included teams ranging from 1A to 5A.
Ragland’s regional romp victories included an 11-0 win against Gaylesville and an 11-3 win against South Lamar on Friday, then a 9-0 win against Parrish and the 12-0 win against South Lamar on Saturday.
“I feel good about it,” Nix said of Ragland’s prospects this week.