By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
Around here, softball is one of “our sports.” It’s a game where our local teams typically do well, from Mortimer Jordan’s three state titles in four years to long playoff runs by Corner. Fultondale, Gardendale and Hayden have had their bright moments as well.
So when it comes to sizing up the prospects for the locals as we move into this week’s area tournaments, we come to a very simple truth:
Potentially, all five teams could end up with a berth in the state finals in Montgomery in two weeks. But there is also the distinct possibility that none of them could advance as well.
Let’s analyze, team by team:
Mortimer Jordan: For the Blue Devils, it’s been a tale of two halves. In the first half of the season, they were mediocre at best. Hitting was pretty good, fielding was okay at times and not so much at others, but pitching was a big shortcoming. That’s to be expected, after two all-state pitchers graduated and went on to college ball.
But things got better when Bailey Murphy came up to the varsity. The eighth-grader was a key to North Jefferson’s county championship season, and made an immediate impact. The lefty has racked up big strikeout numbers with her ball movement. That, coupled with Alabama signee Haylie McCleney on a pace to break the state record for batting average in a season, may be the spark that Jordan needs to return to Lagoon Park. A state championship? Honestly, I doubt it — but I said that last year, too.
Gardendale: Corner coach Aaron James says this is the best Rockets team he’s seen in six years. I agree. They have good pitching, excellent hitting and generally steady fielding. The only question is how they will fare against the big over-the-mountain schools, which has been spotty in the regular season, though most games have been close. They’ll get to the regional easily, but their fate there depends on the brackets, and they will likely face a strong Vestavia Hills team in a semifinal. They have a chance at state, but it’s iffy.
Corner: They’re still ranked 10th in Class 4A after losing some key players and going through a bit of a slump at the end of the regular season. They have No. 8 Haleyville in their own area, and No. 7 Springville plus No. 9 Alexandria in their region. Not an easy path, but they can pull it off, and James has a habit of getting his teams to Montgomery.
Hayden: The Wildcats have battled in a tough area with Curry and a resurgent Jordan. If they get past those two this week, they will see second-ranked Moody and 10th-ranked Albertville at Liberty Park, but otherwise it’s a fairly easy regional. They have a longshot chance at state finals, but Hayden has had strong pitching and defense down the stretch. They could pull it off.
Fultondale: They get to host their area tournament, but if they advance to the regionals, they will sooner or later face off against No. 2 Sumiton Christian or No. 4 American Christian. Neither of those teams will treat the Wildcats with Christian love, except when the game is over. Fultondale has had a decent run; a spot in the state finals would be a big upset.