Outside of a tough area schedule that included top opponents in the Sumiton Christian Eagles and the Lynn Bears, the Tornadoes also had to weather injuries to three key starters late in the season — Tayler Winchester, Ciara Ramsey and Baleigh Robertson — which threatened to deprive Parrish of a third-consecutive area championship and return to the region tournament.
The Tornadoes proved that they were up to the challenge, going a perfect 3-0 in the Class 1A, Area 10 Tournament and advancing to the first round of the region tournament, where they will open play against the Berry Wildcats (25-15) at 8 a.m. on Friday.
The top two teams from the eight-team regional advance to the State Tournament in Montgomery.
Parrish’s Grayson Culverson had an outstanding performance in the area tournament both on the mound and at the plate, picking up all three wins and pitching 21 innings. Offensively, Culverson was 9 for 12 with five RBIs to lead the team.
Along with the play of Culverson, Parrish coach Chris Harris applauded the efforts of Savannah Jones, Makenze Morgan and Meleah Smith — who have all provided leadership with their performance.
“Savannah is a big catalyst for our offense — when she gets on base, good things happen. She’s gone 79 for 86 in stolen bases this year and is hitting the ball extremely well, so we’re very fortunate to have a talent like her with us,” Harris said. “Makenze has been great at the plate all year long — she’s been hitting over .500 this season and Meleah has been a difference-maker too, hitting over .450. There’s also been a number of our eighth graders who have stepped up and played well, which has been critical when we’ve had starters out with injury.”
Despite their injuries, Winchester, Ramsey and Robertson returned for the area tournament. The three girls’ commitment to their team, along with the squad’s determination and ability to continue to win in the absence of the starters, spoke volumes to Harris about his program’s focus and mindset in the face of adversity.
“That we’ve been able to win and win consistently through injuries, tough opposition and the rigors of the season says a lot about where your program is at,” Harris said. “Winning three area championships in a row is tough — especially in this part of the state. In North Alabama, the softball is the best that there is and for us to win three area championships and return to the region tournament for another appearance is quite an accomplishment.”
Sumiton Christian has made four straight trips to the State Softball Tournament. The road to a fifth trip to Montgomery begins against perennial power South Lamar in the Class 1A North Central Regional opener at 8 a.m. Friday.
Both teams have been regulars at the state tournament.
No. 3 Sumiton Christian has finished in the top 3 at state each of the last four years, winning the Class 3A title in 2010 and placing second behind Hatton in Class 2A last season.
No. 9 South Lamar (21-17) has advanced to the State Tournament each of the last four years, finishing as the state runner up in Class 1A in 2009 and 2011.
After losing four seniors from last year’s regional championship team, Sumiton Christian is led by pitcher/infielder Kendall Beth Sides, pitcher/third baseman Jenna Ergle, shortstop Kendell Hamm and outfielder Katlin Sides. Haley Weigant is the lone senior on this year’s squad.
The Eagles (27-25) have battled through a tough schedule this season, but have excelled against Class 1A competition going 10-3. Two of the losses came to Parrish. Sumiton Christian and Parrish are on opposite sides of the region bracket. The teams split four games this season with the Tornadoes winning a pair in the area tournament.
Friday’s Sumiton Christian-South Lamar winner advances to take on the Appalachian-Hackleburg winner at 11 a.m. The regional championship game is set for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
1A teams in the regional are: Parrish, Berry, Tharptown, Southeastern, Appalachian, Hackleburg, Sumiton Christian and South Lamar.