Daily photo illustration by Gary Lloyd|
The Daily's Class 4A-6A coach of the year, Decatur High's Ashley Mueller, left, led her team to a school-record 43 wins, while 4A-6A player of the year, Lawrence County's Sallie Burch, batted .464 and paced the Lady Red Devils to the state tournament.
4A-6A ALL-AREA SOFTBALL
best in 4A-6A
Mueller paces Lady Raiders
to school-record 43 wins
By Brooke Milam
email@example.com · 340-2460
Decatur High softball coach Ashley Mueller's agenda as a first-year head coach included more than just winning games.
In fact, Mueller said her first order of business as the Lady Red Raiders' leader didn't even require a bat and ball.
"I knew they were a good group of talent and character," Mueller said. "My goal before my first practice as head coach was to get them excited about softball."
Decatur accomplished that goal and many others this season.
Softball players roamed the Decatur halls in school colors or Lady Red Raiders softball t-shirts on game days, and the on-field progress seemed just as evident.
After setting a school record for wins in a 43-21 year and advancing to the second round of the Class 5A sub-state, the Lady Red Raiders are excited about softball.
And for helping the Lady Red Raiders to their big season, Mueller is The Daily's Class 4A-6A coach of the year.
"They were all into it — they just wanted to play ball this year and that helped me out all year long," Mueller said.
Decatur went 15-20 last year and improved by 28 wins. The 43 victories broke the old school record of 40 wins set in 2003 under coach Kenny Morson.
Mueller said that after scheduling six tournaments, she put to vote whether the team wanted to play two additional weekends.
Her players agreed to more softball and came away with good results, winning the Brewer tournament, finishing second in the Ardmore tournament, making the final four in the Tuscaloosa tournament and finishing third in a 30-team, single-elimination field in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
"Getting that far in those tournaments said a lot about our program," Mueller said.
The Lady Red Raiders climbed as high as No. 2 on March 29 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association polls.
But Mueller said she didn't focus on records this season, and her players followed their coach's lead.
"I didn't even know it until a couple of games after that we'd broken the school record for wins," Mueller said. "They weren't worried about records — they were focused."
A 2000 Decatur graduate who played softball at Jefferson State and Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn., Mueller also served as a student assistant at Lambuth for one season before graduating in 2005.
She inherited the reigns of the Lady Red Raiders program after assisting Ashley McIntyre last season, and said she found the program had an excellent support system that minimized the typical worries of a first-year head coach.
A win over Bob Jones at Decatur's Kiwanis Field on March 8 began a 13-game winning streak for the Lady Red Raiders that Mueller said was a milestone in the season.
And the future looks bright for Decatur softball, which will return the bulk of its roster next season, losing just two seniors to graduation.
"It was definitely a great first year, and I definitely had a lot of help from my assistants (Robert Slack and Jordan Cantrell) and parents and school support," Mueller said. "Everyone believed in it. The people associated with Decatur softball believed in it, and that made things a lot easier."
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