Daily photo by Michael Wetzel|
From left, Ashley Pitt, Sallie Beth Burch and Whitney Hood are three cogs in the Lawrence County High Lady Red Devils softball machine this year. Lawrence County (48-15), ranked seventh in the final regular season poll, has worked its way through a tough postseason slate to make the program's first trip to the fast-pitch state championships in Montgomery. The Lady Red Devils take on Alabama Christian (38-13) on Thursday at 9 a.m. in the first round of the eight-team, double-elimination Class 4A state championship.
Red Devils take purple duck, chemistry, attitude to their first state tournament
By Ashley Hargrove
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MOULTON — If you've traveled to a Lawrence County High softball game recently and viewed members of the Lady Red Devils' softball team kissing a purple duck, don't be alarmed. They haven't lost their bananas.
In fact, it's just part of a superstitious habit the girls go through before they each bat.
"People probably look at us and think were crazy," senior second baseman Sallie Beth Burch said. "We've been winning games ever since we started kissing the duck, so we're not going to stop now. It's definitely going to Montgomery with us."
The Lady Red Devils and their purple charm are in Montgomery playing in the Alabama State High School Athletic Association Class 4A state championship fast-pitch softball tournament for the first time in school history.
Lawrence County (48-15) plays Alabama Christian of Montgomery in 9 a.m. in the first game of eight-team, double-elimination tournament at Lagoon Park.
Alabama Christian (38-13) won last year's Class 3A title before moving up in classification. The Alabama Christian campus is five miles from the tournament site in Northeast Montgomery, and the Lady Eagles have played at least one tournament on the Lagoon fields this year.
The winner of the game advances to play the winner of the Central-Florence-St. James contest. The two losers will play in an elimination game. Those games begin at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
"It was our goal at the beginning of the season to get there, and we made it," said sophomore catcher Nichole Jackson. "Coach (Don) Smith told us that we either do it now or go home." It was Jackson who scored the winning run in the sub-state series win over East Limestone on Saturday, which sent the Lady Red Raiders to Montgomery.
Even though practice may have been a little more laid back than usual Tuesday, Burch said head coach Smith knows when it's time to get serious.
"Coach Smith focuses a lot on fundamentals. When he says it's time to work, it's time to work, and when it's time to play, it's time to play. He has been a good motivator all year."
Smith says his team has the right chemistry and a great attitude, ripe for postseason play.
"This team has the best chemistry of any girls' team I have been around. All of the girls get along. The ones who aren't playing are in the dugout cheering the others on," Smith said. "The other reason we've been so successful is because of good pitching and timely hits."
Smith is quick to praise his assistant coaches for the team's success. The team finished the regular season ranked seventh.
"My assistant coaches have been great this year. All I've done is drive the bus and get us to where we needed to be on game day."
Of the team's 15 losses this season, 12 of them were to ranked Class 5A and 6A teams, including both Decatur and Hartselle.
"At the beginning of the season, both the assistant coaches and I agreed that we would play a tough schedule," Smith said. "Our girls have the attitude of a team that would go anywhere and get a win at the big tournaments. This group refuses to lose. When the game is on
the line, they all step it up a notch."
Smith added student body's attitude has helped his players.
"The football coach (Ernie Ferguson) has been helpful in letting us use some of their equipment for the field, as well as the principal. It's just been a good cooperative year. I couldn't have asked for it to be any other way," Smith said.
With other county schools such as Speake and Mount Hope playing for a state championship in softball and Hatton in baseball, Burch said the community support has been strong.
"Everyone has been pumped about it. We're going to support Hatton, even though they are our rivals," Burch said.
Hatton's championship run ended Wednesday when it fell to Leroy 3-1.
While the Lady Red Devils weren't happy to see their friends lose, Smith said his team will be ready Thursday morning.
"We stay pretty loose," Smith said Wednesday night. "Our girls might be a little nervous when the game arrives, but it won't take them long to get loose. Alabama Christian has a couple of pitchers who can really bring it. One throws 61 (mph) and the other throws 59. We'll be ready."
Softball state tournament pairings
All games are at Lagoon Park in Montgomery. Each classification includes eight teams and will feature a double-elimination tournament.
Athens Bible vs. South Lamar, Friday, 9 a.m.
Speake vs. Pleasant Home, Friday, 9 a.m.
Mount Hope vs. Hubbertville, Friday, 10:30 a.m.
Addison vs. Samson, Thursday, 9 a.m.
Danville vs. West Blocton, Friday, noon
Lawrence County vs. Alabama Christian, Thursday, 9 a.m.
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