By Robert Carter

The North Jefferson News

If an opposing coach walked up to home plate before a game and handed you a lineup card with the 2009 North Jefferson News Softball All-Star Team on it, you would probably want to run back to the bus.

They’re really, really good.

Out of the 20 girls on the NJN team — call them the “Sisters of Smash” — at least nine are legitimate All-State players, and one or two more could easily be selected as well.

And that’s just from five public high schools and one small private Christian school.

Frankly, most of the selections on this team could have been made by a four-year-old child.

Our list features Mortimer Jordan’s first six batters in their lineup, sometimes known as “Murderer’s Row.” State Tournament MVP Heather Parker, along with Haylie McCleney, Alyssa Linn, Blair Johnson, Danae Hays and Morgan Estell are shoo-ins for this group. Besides two straight Class 5A championships for everyone but Parker, all six have been named to the all-tournament team at Montgomery or to last year’s Alabama Sports Writer’s Association All-State Team.

The 2009 edition of the ASWA list comes out on Saturday morning, and as unusual as it is to see five or six players from one team make the list, don’t be surprised if it happens.

From Class 4A state runner-up Corner, we’ve chosen senior pitcher Kortney Sloan, a likely All-State choice. When the Yellow Jacket’s number-two pitcher Heather Anderson came up with a stiff arm in the state tournament, Sloan took the ball for the rest of the run and nearly carried her team to a big blue trophy.

Senior catcher Mandy Slatton, who will join Sloan at Bevill State next season; sophomore Preslie Cruce; and Jennifer Tolbert also make the NJN team. Corner was similar to Jordan in that the team was young, but had great team chemistry as well as talent.

Fultondale, whose fourth-place state finish in Class 2A was the best ever for the school, lands four players on our list. Cadi Oliver, Haley Hill, Shelbi Smith and Camden Marrs were the backbone of a team that will in be mostly intact again next year (only Hill and shortstop Britani Howell were seniors). Look for one of them, and maybe two, to make All-State.

Gardendale depended on pitcher Katie Argent more than any other local team depended on their ace. She didn’t pitch every game, but she was close, and a good day for Argent almost always translated to a Rocket victory.

No one stood above the rest at the plate or on defense for Gardendale — it was more of an ensemble effort. With that in mind, Taylor Powell also gets our pick. She displayed a knack for a clutch hit, often a homer, just when her team needed it the most.

In any other year and in any other area of Class 5A, Hayden would have had an excellent season and made progress at least to the regional tournament. But when the eighth-ranked team in the state is the second-best team in your area — and the best team is also the ninth-ranked team in the whole country — it means that the area tournament is as far as the Wildcats’ season went.

Nonetheless, Hayden’s very young squad, which loses only senior Kris Quick, places two players on our squad. Meagen Holt, who tied a state record with three hits in one inning in the season’s first game, finished with a .484 batting average. And Mara Conner was Hayden’s mainstay in the pitching circle, holding opposing batters to a .184 average in the regular season. Both Conner and Holt were sophomores.

Tabernacle Christian’s run in ACEAA conference play came up a bit short at the state tournament, where the Torches finished third. But even in that small conference, Tabernacle distinguished itself well.

The Torches that made our NJN team are Candace Coleman, the senior second-baseman who has been the backbone and leader of the team for nearly her entire career; and Katie Parr, who turned out to be Tabernacle’s top pitcher and an able hitter throughout the season.

For the coach of our NJN All-Star Team, we are putting on our best politician’s face and coming down squarely on both sides of the issue. Choosing Mortimer Jordan’s Laura Rickman is almost too obvious and too easy — everyone expected the Blue Devils to steamroll through the post-season, and they did.

Corner’s Aaron James had less to work with, relatively speaking, but still coached his team to within one game of the state title — and if not some untimely health issues, the Jackets would likely have gone all the way. So, we’ve selected both Rickman and James as the co-coaches of the NJN All-Star Team.

So there you have it — the best players from an area blessed with an abundance of softball riches. And most of them will return for the 2010 season.

That means our job of choosing next year’s team won’t be any easier.

Coming Wednesday, June 10: The North Jefferson News 2009 All-Star Baseball Team.

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