MONTGOMERY – Following their loss to top-ranked Brantley on Thursday night, the Spring Garden Lady Panthers knew things weren’t going to be easy working their way back into contention from the losers bracket of the Class 1A state softball tournament.
Needing five wins to claim their first softball state championship on Friday, and knowing they would probably have to go through three-time defending state champion Brantley again and two-time defending 2A champion Sumiton Christian to get there, things got off a good start for the sixth-ranked Lady Panthers with a 15-4 victory in five innings against fourth-ranked Marion County.
The win set up a showdown with second-ranked Sumiton Christian, but a pair of two-run home runs by freshman third baseman Taylor Whisonant, a solo shot to left by freshman second baseman Anna Kate Tyree and a solo blast to left by senior center fielder Abbey Bice helped the Lady Eagles claim a 13-6 victory.
The loss ended Spring Garden’s season at 29-18.
“They obviously hit well, and I felt like we hit well at times, but then other innings we couldn’t put hits together,” Spring Garden coach Ann Welsh said. “I felt better about hitting in that game than I did against Brantley (a 13-0 loss in five innings on Thursday). It seemed like we hit better.”
Spring Garden was down from the get-go. The Lady Eagles took a 4-0 on thanks in part to the first of Whisonant’s two blasts to left field. They extended their lead to 6-0 with a pair of runs in the second on a RBI-single from Kendall Beth Sides and a RBI-double by Savanah Langston.
But the Lady Panthers proved to have some life about them in the top of the third. They batted around and scored four runs to trim the deficit to 6-4. The big blow of the inning came from the bat of junior third baseman Payton Traffanstedt who delivered a three-run double to left center field. She later scored on a sacrifice fly from freshman first baseman Charley Grissom.
Sumiton Christian answered with three more runs in the bottom half of the third on Tyree’s homer. A pair of Lady Panther errors led to the other two runs, giving the Lady Eagles a 9-4 advantage.
Spring Garden got one of those runs back in the fourth, but then Sumiton Christian chased junior pitcher Kerstin Bryant from the game in the bottom of the fourth following Whisonant’s second two-run homer, which gave the Lady Eagles a 11-5 lead.
The two teams traded runs in the fifth, and Bice added her homer in the sixth off Lady Panther reliever Abbie Steward for the final.
Senior catcher Kalista Free led the Lady Panthers at the plate by going 3-for-4. Sophomore left fielder Katie Williams added a pair of infield singles and a walk. Freshman center fielder Madison Jennings had a pair of singles and drove in a run. Sophomore shortstop Payton McGinnis singled and walked.
Bryant suffered the loss in the circle. She also walked twice and had a RBI-double at the plate.
Even though the Lady Panthers fell short of their state championship goal, Welsh said she was proud of their effort to keep Spring Garden’s state softball tournament streak alive.
“We haven’t finished any worse than any time when we’ve come to state. We’ve always been fourth or above,” Welsh sad. “We want to come back and do better next year.”
And, just like her coach, Bryant is motivated to add a little more depth to Spring Garden’s softball resume next year.
“It’s an expected thing now (making state),” Bryant said. “There were some younger girls watching us today and I know they feel like ‘We’re going to be here one day.’ (Seventh grader) Neely (Welsh) and Abbie (Steward) are crying and upset because they wanted it so bad, and I know when they get older, they’re going to do some big things.
“I think our whole team is going to work hard during the off-season. I know I’m going to be working hard during the off-season, and I know everybody out here will be doing the same.”