Evangel wins ACSC state title after rallying from tournament-opening loss

Published 2:20 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

ALABASTER – The Evangel Christian Lightning had their back against the wall facing elimination after an opening round loss to the Ezekiel Knights in the first round of the ACSC softball tournament, but they took the adversity in stride and claimed another championship.

Evangel took both games of the ACSC finals against Southern Christian 3-2 and 9-3 to win the ACSC state softball championship on Saturday, April 20 to cap off a run of four straight wins over the two-day tournament.

After suffering the 5-2 loss to Ezekiel in the first game of the tournament, the Lightning battled the East Central HomeSchool Patriots for the right to continue their championship run.

East Central took the early lead in the top of the first off a two-out RBI single which put it up 1-0.

A catcher error in the bottom of the first helped Evangel tie the game at one and kick off a rally. The next two batters walked to bring up Ella Ruth Smith, and she hit an RBI single to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead.

The Patriots then threw a wild pitch during each of the next two at-bats that led to runs, putting Evangel up 4-1. Two batters after that, another wild pitch kicked off Gracelynn Shackleford’s at-bat, and an error off her ground ball made the score 6-1.

East Central got a run back off an RBI ground out in the top of the second, but the Lightning quickly got back to work in the bottom of the frame.

With two on and nobody out, Smith singled to score a run, and both of the next two batters had scoring hits as Lilli Whitfield hit an RBI double and Gracie Vines had an RBI single to make the lead 10-2.

Halle Wells singled to put runners on the corners, and Alexis Massey and Emily Johnson both came up with RBI triples on the next two at-bats to take the lead to 13-2.

The next batter walked to keep the on-base streak going, and a run off a pop out and another RBI triple, this time off Scout Thornton’s bat, put Evangel up 15-2 at the end of the second.

The Patriots responded with a run off a steal of home and another off an RBI single in the top of the third, but those two runs would be their last offense of the game.

After the first two batters of the bottom of the third reached base, a run off an error by the East Central catcher resumed the scoring. From there, Massey and Johnson hit back-to-back RBI singles and Sammie Myers followed that up with a run off a fly out to seal the 19-4 win in four innings.

That let Evangel live another day and get a chance at revenge against its rival Ezekiel for a spot in the finals.

The Knights had the first word in the game off a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the first that gave them a 1-0 lead.

However, three straight one-out singles in the top of the second from Makayla Cranford, Raylee Evans and Thornton swung the momentum in Evangel’s favor.

Two batters later, Johnson cleared the bases with an RBI double to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.

Evangel held a tight grip on its lead over the next few innings and took that advantage to four runs with a run off a passed ball in the top of the fourth.

Ezekiel closed that gap to three with a run off an error in the bottom of the fifth, but after a scoreless sixth, Evangel responded in the top of the seventh.

Another string of three straight singles started the inning, this time with Whitfield, Johnson and Willa Bedsole loading up the bases for Smith.

Smith then plated a pair of runs off an RBI single to finish off the 7-2 win and advance to the championship series.

Johnson led Evangel with four RBI in a game where she went 3-for-4 with a run.

Myers took the win with five strikeouts in seven innings after facing one earned run, two total runs, six hits and a walk.

The first game of the series saw the Lighting face a tough challenge from Southern Christian with the Patriots just one win away from a title.

For the first time in the tournament, Evangel got a run in the first inning after Johnson launched a solo home run with one out in the top of the frame.

That swing was crucial as neither team scored until the bottom of the fourth as a defensive duel continued between the title-seeking sides.

However, back-to-back singles for Southern to start the bottom of the fourth put it back in business, and two batters later, an RBI single tied up the game at 1-1.

The Patriots held the Lightning scoreless in the top of the fifth and then capitalized in the bottom of the frame with a one-out RBI double to take the 2-1 lead.

Southern let Evangel back in by hitting Cranford to start the top of the sixth, and two at-bats later, she stole second and then came home off Thornton’s RBI single to tie up the game.

Myers then shut down the Patriots in the circle with three strikeouts in four batters, and Smith capitalized off that momentum with a double to start the top of the seventh.

While the next batter popped out, an error put Smith on third and Cranford singled to bring her home, putting Evangel up 3-2.

The Lightning held on from there and held Southern scoreless in the seventh to force a winner-take-all game for the championship.

Myers went the distance and earned seven strikeouts in seven innings for the win. She gave up just two runs off nine hits and three walks.

Whitfield, Myers and Thornton all had two-hit days to lead the way for the offense.

This time, it was the Patriots who jumped ahead as a pair of RBI singles and a run off a line out in the top of the first put them up 3-0.

However, Evangel surged back from there to score nine unanswered runs, including six in the bottom of the first alone.

Three straight singles from Whitfield, Johnson and Bledsole loaded up the bases, and two runs came home thanks to an error off Smith’s ground ball to third.

That cut the deficit to one, and two batters later, the Lightning took the lead for good.

Cranford singled on the first pitch she saw to send two runs home and give Evangel the 4-3 lead.

While the next batter struck out, an Evans RBI single and another run off an error put the Lightning up 6-3 at the end of the first.

Evangel made that lead 7-3 in the bottom of the second after a wild pitch allowed a run to come home, and in the next inning, that advantage grew to 8-3 off an RBI double from Johnson.

The Lightning continued to hold Southern scoreless from there and put the finishing touches on the victory with an RBI single from Shackelford in the bottom of the sixth to seal the 9-3 win.

Smith earned the win with 5.2 shutout innings of relief where she worked around five hits and three walks to keep the Patriots off the scoreboard.

Whitfield and Johnson each went 3-for-4 with two runs in the final game of the tournament, and Johnson added an RBI as well. Cranford led the team with three RBI off a 1-for-2 day with two walks and Bedsole had a multi-hit game by going 2-for-4 with a run.

Those performances helped Evangel to beat Southern twice in one day after beating the Patriots just once in four tries this season to claim the title.