Shelby County claims area championship, advances to regionals

Published 8:56 am Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

SYLACAUGA – The Shelby County Wildcats saved one of their best stretches of softball for the most important time of the season and it paid off on Monday, May 1.

In Sylacauga for the Class 5A, Area 7 tournament, the Wildcats didn’t just play well, they swept through the tournament on the road to be crowned area champs and earn a spot in the regional tournament.

Shelby County picked up a 21-11 win over Jemison in game one to advance in the winner’s tournament and then followed with a tight 4-3 win over host team and regular-season area champ Sylacauga.

That win advanced the Wildcats to regionals and the area championship game, but they weren’t done yet.

They saved one of their best performances for last, picking up a second win of the day over the host team, this time by a final of 14-3 to claim the title.

Game one to open the tournament was a roller coaster ride of offense for the Wildcats.

They started with nine straight in the first two innings for a 9-0 lead and still led 10-4 through three innings.

Jemison, however, responded with six in the top of the fourth to quickly erase the deficit and even the score at 10-10.

But from there, it was all Shelby County.

The Wildcats responded with six in the bottom half of the inning, while they outscored the Panthers 11-1 between the fourth and fifth innings to end the game with a 21-11 win.

In the win, Paci Clark, Maleah Hale, Morgan Dupree and Kaydence Connell all had three hit games. Hale and Dupree each added three RBIs, while Clark and Connell finished with two RBIs each.

Caitlin Bailey and Caitlan Bland each added four RBIs on two hits, while Makayla Allen finished with one RBI and Gracie Nicewonder totaled one hit and one RBI.

In the circle, Emery Glaze went three innings and struck out two, while Nicewonder finished the final two innings and allowed one run on three hits and a walk.

Game two against the Aggies was a much more challenging and took a late comeback from the Wildcats to avoid going on the brink of elimination.

Trailing 3-0 through five innings of play and down two outs in the top of the sixth, the Wildcats were in danger of going to the final inning down at least three runs.

Instead, they a single from Dupree and an error put two on base and kept the inning alive. That set the stage for Bailey, who lined a ball to left field, driving home two runs on a two-RBI single to make it 3-2. Bland then followed with a pop fly that found the grass for a single and brought home Bailey for the game-tying run.

After Shelby County got through the bottom half without giving up a run, an exciting final inning was set.

And one of the team’s top hitters made sure it didn’t go past the seventh.

Down two outs yet again, Clark stepped to the plate and took the first pitch she saw over the wall in center field for a solo home run that ultimately became the game-winning hit in a 4-3 win for the Wildcats.

They put two more aboard in the inning, but no further damage was done. Nicwonder then stepped back out in the circle and finished off a strong complete game by forcing the Aggies down in order in the home half of the final inning, cementing the victory.

Nicewonder finished the game allowing one earned run and two unearned runs on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

At the plate, Clark’s home run won it as she finished with that lone hit and RBI, while Bailey finished 1-for-1 with two RBIs and two walks. Dupree added two hits for the Wildcats, while Hale added one.

That game locked up a spot at regionals and put Shelby County in the driver’s seat for the area title, needing just one win with two chances.

In a second game against Sylacauga following an Aggies win over Jemison, Shelby County found itself in another tight battle through five innings of play.

The Wildcats scored two in the first and two more in the second to lead 4-1 all the way through the top of the fifth, but the Aggies trimmed the deficit to two runs following a run in the bottom of the fifth.

Shelby County, however, took a 4-2 lead and blew the game open in the top of the sixth with a 10-run inning, eventually leading to a 14-3 win in six innings.

Hale finished the game 3-for-3 with two doubles and four RBIs, while Dupree added three hits and three RBIs with two doubles as well. Glaze finished with two hits, including a home run, and two RBIs, while Bland added a hit and two RBIs on a home run.

Kloe Gallups added two hits and an RBI, while Bailey finished with one hit and one RBI.

The Wildcats will now travel to Montgomery to compete in the regional tournament, needing two wins to advance to the Class 5A state tournament.