Evangel softball team claims 4th straight ACSC State Championship

Published 6:34 am Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

ALABASTER – For the fourth year in a row, the Evangel Lightning softball team walked away with an ACSC State Championship on Saturday, April 22 after sweeping through the tournament with three consecutive wins.

The Lightning took down Southern Christian on Friday night, before coming back on Saturday and sweeping rival Ezekiel with back-to-back wins to claim this year’s title and continue to live up to the team’s expectation.

With the three wins in the tournament, Evangel improved to 23-6 overall on the season, while the Lightning had won 15 of the last 16 games following the tournament and have since added two more to extend their win streak to seven in a row following two more wins over north River Christian to close the regular season ahead of a trip to nationals.

During the ACSC tournament, Evangel started on a high note in the opening game against Southern Christian, storming out of the gate with confidence.

The Lightning built a 6-0 lead through two innings of play, scoring three runs in each of the first two innings to take early command.

Starting pitcher Lauren Smith held the Patriots scoreless through the first four innings of play, protecting that lead.

Southern did put two runs on the board in the top of the fifth to trim the deficit to four runs, but Evangel answered with one final insurance run an inning later in the home half of the sixth to extend the lead to five runs.

The Patriots gave a run at it in the final inning, but they ultimately only had one run cross the plate and left two runners on base, as the Lightning closed out a 7-3 win.

Lilli Whitfield led the way at the plate with a 3-for-4 game featuring an RBI and three runs scored, while Emily Johnson added two hits and three RBIs in the win thanks to a home run. Rileigh Johnstone added two RBIs on two hits, while Alyssa Goodson finished with a 2-for-4 game. Ivie Littleton added a solo home run for the Lightning and Gracelynn Shackleford finished with a double.

In the circle, Smith finished her four innings allowing three hits and a walk with no runs and two strikeouts, while Ella Smith followed with an inning and struck out two giving up one earned run and one unearned run on three hits. Sammie Myers finished off the final two innings and gave up a run on three hits with three strikeouts.

That led into championship Saturday a day later, as the Lightning started with a matchup against Ezekiel, looking to avoid falling to the loser’s bracket.

And the Lightning were up to the challenge.

Once again, they took an early lead with two runs in the first and piled on five more in the third to make it 7-0.

Ezekiel only had one answer with a run in the top of the fourth, while Evangel finished the game out with one in the bottom half of the inning and then three more in the bottom of the fifth to complete a five-inning, 10-run win by the final of 11-1.

Littleton led the way this time with a 3-for-4 game featuring three runs scored and one triple, while Johnstone and Myers both finished with two hits. Whitfield led the team with two RBIs on one hit, while Lauren Smith and Shackleford each added a hit and one RBI. Beyond that, Baylee Knight finished with one hit and Johnson finished with an RBI.

Lauren Smith also got the start in the circle and was strong, allowing just one hit, run and walk in the winning effort, while Myers got the close with a perfect final inning.

From there, the Lightning needed just one more win over Ezekiel to claim the championship, and while it was a much tighter game the second time around, they prevailed.

In the bottom of the sixth and tied 1-1, Evangel came to the plate and put together a clutch inning.

Lauren Smith was the spark with a one-out hit, while an error then allowed Johnson to reach safely and put two aboard. An out, however, followed, putting the Lightning in need of a hit to keep the inning going.

In stepped Knight, who played hero when she drove a ball to left field that got down for a double and allowed both Smith and Johnson to score what became the game-winning runs in a 3-1 victory.

After scoring one of those runs, Smith came out in the top of the seventh looking to finish off a complete game in the circle and started with a strikeout before forcing back-to-back groundouts to give Evangel the 2023 ACSC State Championship.

In the championship win, Knight finished with the two RBIs and the game-winning hit, while Whitfield added one hit and an RBI. Littleton finished with two hits, including another triple, while Johnstone and Smith each had one hit.

In the circle, Smith got the complete-game win, allowing one run on four hits and three walks, while she struck out six.