No. 3 Southside takes area championship


Southside’s Hunter Ashcraft backpeddles to make a catch as teammates Savannah Thomas, left, and Morgan Holloway look on during Thursday’s game against Fort Payne. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times)


"Together.”

It’s a one-word motto, of sorts, for the Southside High School softball team this season.

“That’s been our thing,” senior outfielder Savannah Thomas said. “We win together, we lose together — that’s what it’s been about.”

Southside certainly won “together” Thursday afternoon.

The third-ranked Panthers defeated Fort Payne 12-3 to win the Class 5A, Area 13 tournament championship. Southside (34-12-1) pounded 16 hits and pitcher Claire Graves kept the Wildcats’ bats silent for much of the game.

“It seemed like a little bit of everything was working,” said Graves, who allowed three runs on five hits and blasted a three-run homer in the sixth. She was named the tourney MVP. “I just love playing

with this team.

“We have so much fun every time we play.”

Graves and the Panthers hope to have an enjoyable trip to the Huntsville Sportsplex next week for the North Regional.

A win or runner-up finish there would send Southside to the state tournament in Montgomery.

Fort Payne also advanced by finishing as the runner-up of the area tournament. The Wildcats beat Etowah 9-3 in the losers’ bracket earlier Thursday to advance to the title game.

The win came as a sweet one for coach Angie Sanders and the Panthers, who missed out on a trip to the regional last season.

“I’m just real proud of them,” said Sanders, whose team last year finished about .500. “They’re just on a mission. This team gets along very well, and that means a lot. When you have that camaraderie, that togetherness, when you have that, it’s hard to take down a group.”

Southside actually trailed after two innings Thursday, as Fort Payne third baseman Ashlynn Holland roped a solo home run to left field to give the Wildcats a 1-0 advantage.

It didn’t last long, as Southside got RBI singles from Graves and Hunter Ashcraft in the third to take a 2-1 lead.

Graves didn’t allow another hit until the sixth inning, and by then, it was way too late for the Wildcats.

Brittany Williams led off the fourth with a single, sending Paiden Kircus to the plate. With a 3-0 count, Kircus got the green light and connected for a no-doubter over the wall in left center field.

“I just saw meat,” Kircus said of the pitch. It was the first home run of her high school career. “That’s all I saw just coming right down the pipe.”

Williams made it 5-1 in the fifth with an RBI single to score Morgan Holloway and the Panthers added three more in the sixth on Graves’ homer, which scored Thomas and Savannah Elkins.

Fort Payne put two runs on the board in the sixth with Punky Chappell’s RBI double and Holland’s RBI single to cut the Southside lead to 8-3, but the Panthers added four more in the seventh. Kircus scored on an error and Thomas’ RBI double plated Savannah Yancey. Both Thomas and Emily Coker, who was running for Graves, scored on passed balls.

Graves, Ashcraft and Williams each finished with three hits, while Kircus was 2 for 3. Thomas went 4 for 4 with two runs scored, an RBI and two stolen bases. As one of the team’s two seniors, she can’t wait for the regional tourney.

“It’s something we’ve looked forward to,” she said. “We have a target in our dugout. We wrote on it area championship, then regional, then state. That’s been our goal all year.”