No. 3 Southside loses back-to-back at state tourney


Southside’s Malary Smith steals second as Saraland’s Chassity Kidd awaits the ball in the Class 5A state softball tournament at Lagoon Park in Montgomery. (Photo by Marc Golden | Gadsden Times)


By Nick Johnston and J.J. Hicks

Times Sports Writers


MONTGOMERY — Last week when Southside qualified for the state softball tournament for the first time since 1989, coach Angie Sanders was speechless.

On Friday night, she was nearly speechless for a completely different reason.

The third-ranked Panthers were eliminated from the Class 5A state tournament Friday after just two games at Lagoon Park in Montgomery. They opened the day with a 1-0 loss to Saraland before falling to Shelby County 11-1.

“I can’t explain it,” Sanders said after the loss to Shelby County. “Just wanting to be in this tournament and wanting to finish well. … This is not what we wanted. This is not the way we’ve played all year.”

Southside did look much different than the team that rolled to regular-season and area tournament titles before getting a runner-up finish at the North Regional last week.

Against Shelby County, Southside recorded just one hit, and that came in the final inning. Wildcat pitcher Kaitlyn Paschall allowed an unearned run and struck out eight while walking five to get the win. Sanders thinks the Panthers’ struggles in the early game against Saraland may have contributed to their performance at the plate against Shelby County.

“We didn’t hit this morning,” Sanders said. “Maybe coming up short in that first game put doubts in our mind for this game. It just wasn’t our day.”

Paschall helped her own cause with a two-run, first-inning homer to the opposite field to give the Wildcats the only the runs they would need.

The Panthers’ run came in the fourth to cut Shelby County’s lead to 2-1. Aggressive base running by Emilee Coker got Southide on the board in the fourth. After Savannah Elkins led off the inning with a walk, Coker entered as a courtesy runner and stole second. Two outs later she stole third, and an errant throw allowed her to scoot home to pull within 2-1.

But things went off the rails for the Panthers in the bottom of the fourth. Shelby County’s Karlee Cardwell hit a bases-loaded two-RBI double, which spelled the end of starting pitcher Claire Graves’ night in circle. On reliever Brittany Williams’ first pitch, Brianna Buie singled home Lauren Reynolds and Cardwell scored on an errant throw for a 6-1 lead.

Graves suffered the loss, allowing four hits and striking out five while walking four in 31⁄3 innings of work.

The Wildcats added four more runs in the fifth and got their final tally in the sixth to end the game by mercy rule.

In the Panthers’ opener, Graves gave up just six hits while striking out 10 in the game. Her counterpart, Allison Pickett, struck out five while scattering four hits.

Neither hurler gave up a walk.

Sanders felt that the gravity of the moment may have weighed on her team a bit.

“It was definitely a pitcher’s duel,” Sanders said. “I think nerves, hype, atmosphere and all that stuff (affected the game). You preach, preach, preach to try to get them to ignore that and regroup. It is what it is.

Graves had escaped a few jams earlier in the game, but she was unable to do so in the seventh inning. With one out, Saraland’s Kendall Palmer, a pinch hitter, picked up a single. After Graves fanned Savannah Woodruff, an error by shortstop Paiden Kircus allowed Whitney Jemison to get on base. With runners on first and second, Katlyn Obradovich singled to center field, and Savannah Thomas had the ball roll under her glove. Palmer scored to start the celebration for the Spartans (36-8).

“We usually have very good defense to back her (Graves) up,” Sanders said. “This atmosphere is hard to handle, but we know how to play ball. Saraland is good, but we beat ourselves.”

Despite the loss, Graves was happy with her performance, and she seconded her coach’s comments.

“I feel like I did good that game,” she said. “My goal is to not have any walks. I think some of the defensive errors did have to do with the crowd.

“We were excited, the fans were going crazy and I think we get too caught up in that sometimes. Before the game, everybody was talking about how nervous they were, that they had butterflies.”

The Panthers had a runner reach second base three times in the game. The top of the first inning likely was the best shot Southside had to score. Thomas led off with a single and went to second on a wild pitch. However, Pickett struck out Elkins and got ground outs from Graves and Williams to escape unscathed.

No runners reached third base in the game for the Panthers.

Graves got out of a bases loaded, two-out jam in the fourth and a one-out, runners-on-first-and-second quagmire in the sixth inning before Saraland closed it out in the seventh.

Despite the disappointing finish, Sanders was very optimistic about her team’s future. She loses just two seniors to graduation and had two juniors playing this year. The rest of her team is made up of mainly freshmen and sophomores.

“There are so many good things about to come out of this group,” Sanders said. “The next four or five years there’s no telling what this group is going to do. I guarantee you, the next time they get put in this situation it will not be like this.”