Another good season of softball in the Walker County area is in the books and there's plenty of excitement on the horizon for next year to keep fans ready for its quick return.The area experienced a …
Another good season of softball in the Walker County area is in the books and there’s plenty of excitement on the horizon for next year to keep fans ready for its quick return.
The area experienced a fair amount of change in 2018 — mostly positive — by far the largest, and certainly most unwelcome change however, is the lack of a state championship trophy brought home from Montgomery.
For the first time since 2014, no school within Walker County hoisted the “Blue Map” trophy sought by every team in Alabama. The good news? The following year started a three-year run of state titles.
Speaking of three-year title runs, Sumiton Christian’s came to an end on Thursday, with the Eagles finishing as the state runner-up. Although the Eagles obviously would have loved to continue their championship streak to four, the program may be in one of its brightest periods since the 2016 season.
The Eagles graduate just one senior — Lindsey Holloway, a designated player/partial starter. The rest of the team returns intact — led by a stellar cast of hitters and a great pitching staff.
After losing some of the best players — in not only school story, but state history — to graduation last season, I looked for the Eagles to make it back to the state tournament, but make an early exit. The young team progressed quickly — very quickly — and will be a joy to watch for years to come. The move back to Class 2A next year won’t mean a lot — it’s where the Eagles won titles in 2015 and 2016, as well as the fact that Sumiton Christian spends the vast majority of the year playing Class 3A to Class 7A teams.
The Cordova Blue Devils continue to make great strides and program history of their own. For the second-consecutive year, Cordova won an area title and the North Central Region championship — as well as earning back-to-back state tournament bids.
With reclassification shuffling the deck in the upcoming school year, Cordova will find itself back in a four-team region with in-county rival Curry, region qualifier Haleyville and struggling Fayette County.
The Blue Devils will also have to contend with the graduation of three senior leaders — Meagan Hicks, Mary Grayson Kilpatrick and Kaitlin Herron. Of course, the loss of the three senior starters also means six underclassmen starters return, including pitcher Raven Clark and potential All-State nominee Emma Hyche.
Jasper won another area championship in 2018 and made its way back to the North Central Regional as head coach Brandi Hall and her staff continue to build the Vikings into an annual state contender.
Like Sumiton Christian, the Vikings lose just one starter this year, an extremely crucial one in pitcher Skylar Birdyshaw. Backup Lakelyn Turnbow started in some games this season, as well as seeing relief time for Birdyshaw. Next year, she’ll have to adjust quickly to being the full-time starter.
Outside the pitching transition, Jasper will be a team that can generate a lot of offense in 2019. There’s speed and power at the plate for the Vikings — the numbers should increase next year.
Perhaps the biggest challenge Jasper will face this year will come in area play — where the Vikings have been perfect in the past two seasons. Shifting from Class 6A to 5A, the Vikings will share the area with powerhouse programs Hayden and Mortimer Jordan, the formidable Corner Yellow Jackets and the improving Dora Bulldogs.
Dora’s improvement this year went well beyond four additional wins to the record from 2017 to 2018. Under new coach Teresa Bradford, the Bulldogs played with a competitive fire that hadn’t been seen in several years — which helped the team show progress.
Dora was rewarded with a return trip to the North Central Regional, where it played an outstanding game against state contender Cherokee County.
Keep your eyes on the Bulldogs in the coming years — the growth and progression may be slow in certain times, but Dora’s sure to be a very good team in the making.
The most intriguing teams in the area are the three programs left to mention — Carbon Hill, Oakman and Curry — all three of which have the talent to go to Lagoon Park, but seem to be missing a key element to help elevate their play to the next level.
Both Carbon Hill and Oakman have been to the North Central Regional in the past two years and have recent state appearances. Carbon Hill came one win away from making the state tournament this year, nearly fighting its way through the loser's bracket.
Curry’s record improved under first year coach Dave Lawson and the Yellow Jackets scored plenty of runs, but defensive problems had opponents crossing the plate frequently as well.
Overall, the area sent six out of seven teams to the region tournaments in Tuscaloosa and Troy — extremely strong and indicative of the talent base, coaching and determination we enjoy seeing at play in the spring every year.
In closing, this season also marked the first year that the DME broadcasted softball in and around our area. It was a great joy. Writing about softball in our area has been wonderful, but broadcasting adds a wonderful new element that we’ll be proud to bring you for many years to come. Additionally, this summer we will have several of our collegiate stars on for “Softball Talk” — so be sure to check online to listen to the archived replay at www.mountaineagle.com.
W. Brian Hale is the sports writer for the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.