Walker gets first taste of State Softball Tournament

Lady Vikings face Chelsea in opener today

By JOHNATHAN BENTLEY, Eagle Sports Editor
Posted 5/16/17

BIRMINGHAM — Walker had always come up short.

An error here, a missed opportunity there — the Lady Vikings fell agonizingly short of their first trip to the state softball tournament each of the last two years.

All that changed last week.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

Walker gets first taste of State Softball Tournament

Lady Vikings face Chelsea in opener today

Posted

BIRMINGHAM — Walker had always come up short.

An error here, a missed opportunity there — the Lady Vikings fell agonizingly short of their first trip to the state softball tournament each of the last two years.

All that changed last week.

Walker came through with every crucial hit, key pitch and defensive play. As a result, the Lady Vikings are making school history today.

Walker finished as the No. 2 qualifier at the North-Central Regional Tournament in Tuscaloosa, earning the school’s first fast-pitch State Softball Tournament appearance in the process.

Now, Walker is one of the last eight Class 6A teams standing. The Lady Vikings open state tournament play at 9 a.m. today against No. 7 Chelsea. Win or lose, Walker’s second game will be at 1:30 p.m. at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park in the double-elimination tournament.

Now that the chase for state is over, Walker can turn its attention to larger goals.

“These kids have always been trying to get there. Now they are playing for it, which is a much bigger deal,” second-year Walker head coach Brandi Hall said as her team practiced at Samford University's softball field on Tuesday.

“This is a lot of fun because this is our first year going to state as a fast-pitch team at Walker,” junior first baseman Skylar Birdyshaw said. “It’s a great opportunity for us, and we’ve got the team to win (in Montgomery).”

This year’s Class 6A field includes six ranked teams — No. 1 Daphne, No. 3 Gardendale, No. 4 Helena, No. 6 Hazel Green, No. 7 Chelsea and No. 10 Northview.

“I’m expecting good competition,” said Mabry Norris, the starting pitcher and lone senior on the team. “I think we will step up and play well. If we can just put the ball in play and play together, we will win. I have a really good feeling.”

While Walker’s current players may not have any state experience, head coach Brandi Hall has plenty.

She made the State Softball Tournament multiple times during her slow-pitch career at Walker and she also coached Madison Academy to a pair of fast-pitch titles in the early 2000s.

“I told the girls that it’s a whole different atmosphere. They are actually playing for a state championship. Every game they play is one step closer to getting that blue map (championship trophy),” Hall said.

One reason Walker was able to make school history this season can be traced back to the summer, when Hall made a change to her teams’ hitting style.

“The difference this year has been our offense. We are scoring runs. I think they are buying into hitting the ball out in front and staying in the middle of the field,” said Hall.

“I told them it would be something different. It’s something I had to learn. I really didn’t want to change, but I knew colleges were doing it so it wouldn’t be fair to the girls if I didn’t try. It made all the difference in the world. We have been swinging it like crazy this year. I was hesitant at first, but after seeing the results there is no way I would go back,” Hall said.

Walker continued its offensive onslaught at the regional tournament, scoring 26 runs on 29 hits in its three wins in Tuscaloosa.

Hall admits today’s opener against Chelsea is the key game to Walker’s tournament run.

“That first game is where all the nerves are. If you can just get that first one, that’s huge. At the regional, winning those first two games are why we are where we are,” Hall said.

Birdyshaw is confident in the Lady Vikings.

“I think we can go out and beat Chelsea and that puts us in a good spot for the rest of the games. We will have to play hard and fight every minute for it because there is going to be great competition, but I think we can do it,” she said.

In other first-round games, Daphne plays Cullman, Gardendale plays Helena and Hazel Green takes on Northview.