No. 3 Southside begins title quest


Southside third baseman Savannah Elkins, right, and pitcher Claire Graves, left, will help lead the Panthers in their opening game of the Class 5A state softball tournament today against Saraland at Lagoon Park in Montgomery. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times)


Class 5A, No. 3 Southside begins play in the Class 5A state softball tournament against unranked Saraland at noon Friday at Lagoon Park in Montgomery.

The Panthers (37-13-1) are coming off an emotional 7-6 win over Lawrence County in the North Regional on May 11. The victory secured Southside a spot in the state tournament for the first time since 1989.

With a bid in the final eight on the line, Southside led 7-2 going into the seventh inning against Lawrence County before allowing four runs. With just one out, pitcher Claire Graves bore down and fanned the last two batters.

“It was so tremendous, qualifying to get here,” Southside coach Angie Sanders said. “It was so important because of how the community has responded. We had tears of joy; so much excitement. The girls have worked so hard to get to this point.

“Our community has given us money to travel. There are signs up everywhere. Our staff at school has been so gracious to our girls. The parents have grouped together. Our motto this year is ‘Together.’ We can’t do this without everybody.”

While the emotional high of defeating Lawrence County is nearly a week old, Sanders believes that her team still is feeling the momentum from it.

“I feel we are playing at the level we need to be playing at,” she said. “We peaked early, then we had a downturn. We have a bullseye in our dugout, there are three circles in it. Right in the center is ‘State.’ We kept telling the girls that they had a bullseye on their back and that they need to keep focused on what they are doing.”

The Panthers are led by Graves in circle.

The lineup is filled with solid bats from top to bottom. Savannah Thomas, Morgan Holloway, Brittany Williams and Lindsey Beal are just a few of the hitters who will present a challenge to Saraland.

Southside will face a team in the Spartans that did not exist until 2011. Prior to that, students in the area attended Satsuma High School.

Despite not being as highly regarded as some teams in Montgomery, Sanders expects a stiff challenge from Saraland.

“I hear that they have a strong team,” she said. “They can hit up and down the lineup. They’ve got pretty good pitching. I expect every game down here to be a fight. I don’t expect a blowout either way.”

The winner of the game will face the winner of No. 5 Hayden and unranked Shelby County at 7 p.m. The losers of the two games also will play one another at 7 p.m.