MONTGOMERY — Haylie McCleney is not making an exit from her final state softball tournament quietly.
The senior center fielder made a spectacular catch of a fly ball near the right center field fence, knocking the fence down with her head and then getting up and throwing to cutoff woman Nikki Chafin, who then fired to catcher Brittany Collier.
Collier then tagged out hard-charging Albertville runner Emily Woodruff at home plate to complete the double play, and help preserve a 6-1 Mortimer Jordan victory Thursday night in the loser’s bracket second round of the AHSAA Class 5A Softball Championship.
The victory keeps the Blue Devils alive in their quest for a second consecutive state title, and the team’s fourth in five years. It sets up another meeting with Spanish Fort on Friday morning at 10:30.
The Toros fell to Jordan 8-0 in the opening game, with pitcher Bailey Murphy chalking up a career-high 15 strikeouts. While the Devils were defeating the Aggies, Spanish Fort was sending Lawrence County, the top-ranked team in the state, to an early exit with a 6-4 decision.
No. 10 Albertville, which lost to Jordan twice in the regional tournament last week, started off Thursday’s game with a solo home run by Woodruff, who sent Murphy’s fourth pitch of the game well over the left field fence.
But the Devils tied it in the bottom of the first in typical fashion, with Shelby Maze bunting her way onto first, moving to second on an Alyson Linn bunt, and scoring on a Tiffani Chaviers hit.
Albertville pitcher Peighton Ponder kept the Devils in check for three more innings, until walking Collier to start the fifth. Collier went to second on a passed ball, then to third on a Brooke Hill ground out, and scored when McCleney singled to center. The center fielder misplayed the ball, and McCleney dashed all the way to third. She then scored when Maze hit into an error. Maze later came home on a bases-loaded walk.
The Devils scored again in the seventh when Murphy singled, and came in on a McCleney double. McCleney then scored on a Maze hit.
But it was McCleney’s catch that took the air out of any hopes that the Aggies had of coming back. And it also resulted in the loss of Woodruff, who was ejected for her charge that bowled over Collier, after Jordan coach Shawn Maze went to the umpires to lobby for Woodruff’s removal.
“That was a huge turning point,” Maze said. “She [Woodruff] is a great player, and I know she didn’t mean to do that, but I had to protect my catcher, and do what’s right for the game.”
McCleney made a bit of a habit of crashing fences Thursday, having done so in the Devils loss to Chelsea.
“That one hurt a little bit. I got cut up a little bit. I dove, and my head hit the fence. And then I popped up and threw,” McCleney said. “I think Nikki made the throw of her lifetime.”
One downside for McCleney: she was caught stealing second for the first time this year, in 61 attempts.
Murphy struck out eight Aggies in the win, and gave up five hits and one walk. Ponder struck out three Devils, walked four and allowed nine hits.
Maze and McCleney both went 3-for-4 at the plate, with McCleney driving in two runs and Maze one. Woodruff finished 2-for-3, adding a single to her homer.
For Jordan to win another championship, they will have to first beat Spanish Fort, then take on the loser of the winner’s bracket final between Chelsea and St. Paul’s Episcopal. Should they prevail there, Jordan must defeat the Chelsea-St. Paul winner twice.
BOX SCORE ALBERTVILLE AB R H RBI MORTIMER JORDAN AB R H RBI Emily Woodruff 3 1 2 1 Haylie McCleney 4 2 3 2 Brittany Copeland 3 0 1 0 Shelby Maze 4 2 3 1 Katlin Light 3 0 0 0 Alyson Linn 3 0 0 0 Jenna Chandler 3 0 1 0 Tiffani Chaviers 3 0 1 1 Madi Bruce 3 0 0 0 Alexandra Copeland 2 0 0 1 Erin Segers 3 0 1 0 Morgan Cantrell 2 0 0 0 Peighton Ponder 3 0 0 0 Bailey Murphy 3 1 1 0 Madison Cantrell 2 0 0 0 Brittany Collier 2 1 1 0 Shainna Pearce 3 0 0 0 Brooke Hill 3 0 0 0 TOTALS 26 1 5 1 TOTALS 26 6 9 5 ALBERTVILLE 100 000 0 -- 1 MORTIMER JORDAN 100 032 x -- 6 LOB--ALBERTVILLE 5, MORTIMER JORDAN 6. ERR--Shainna Pearce, Brittany Copeland, Alexandra Copeland. 2B--Haylie McCleney. HR--Emily Woodruff. SB--Allison Cherry (2), Shelby Maze. ALBERTVILLE IP H R ER BB SO HR Peighton Ponder 6 9 6 4 4 3 0 MORTIMER JORDAN Bailey Murphy 7 5 1 1 1 8 1 PB--Brittany Copeland. SO--Madi Bruce, Shainna Pearce, Erin Segers, Brittany Copeland (2), Peighton Ponder, Jenna Chandler, Madison Cantrell, Alexandra Copeland, Brittany Collier, Alyson Linn. BB--Madison Cantrell, Alexandra Copeland, Brittany Collier, Morgan Cantrell, Alyson Linn.