Pike County, Zion Chapel softball teams gear up for regionals

Published 10:22 am Monday, May 8, 2023

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On May 9, both the Zion Chapel Lady Rebels and Pike County Lady Bulldogs will compete in the AHSAA South Regional Softball Tournament in Gulf Shores.

Pike County will face WS Neal in the Class 3A Regionals on Tuesday. WS Neal earned the Area 1 Championship after sweeping their way through the area tournament, defeating Flomaton in the finals. Meanwhile, Pike County finished runner-up in the Area 3 Tournament, falling to 3A’s No. 1-ranked Opp in the championship round.

“I believe our opening round game against Straughn was probably the cleanest and most complete game we’ve played all year long,” Pike County Head Coach Ryan McCollough said. “We hit the ball well in big time situations and played pretty good defense and pitched it well. Overall, that game was our best game and it was huge because we had lost to Straughn twice in the regular season.

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“That gave us a lot of confidence and if we don’t play as well as we do there we probably don’t advance out of the area tournament, because I don’t know if our energy or attitude would have been there for the rest of the day.”

Pike County and WS Neal never saw one another in the regular season, which makes for a tough challenge in the postseason.

“They’re region champions, so they’re talented,” he said. “I’ve talked to some other coaches to get some ideas on how to play them but it’s a little bit of an unknown, especially when you match up against a team you haven’t seen in tournament play or in the regular season. We’ll go out and play our game.

“The stuff that got us this far is what we have to do now. There’s no reason to change up the formula now. WS Neal can play good defense, pitch it well and hit the ball. You don’t get this far without that.”

The Lady Dawgs are led by senior Amity White, who is committed to play college softball at South Alabama, and sophomore pitcher Ky Wilkerson along with a number of other veteran players, and this is Pike County’s second consecutive year making it to regionals.

“We have to play with confidence and with some swagger,” McCollough said. “We’re one of the 32 best softball teams in the State of Alabama. That is set in stone, they earned that right by advancing to regionals and I want to see us play aggressive, clean and confident and let the chips fall where they may. If we can take care of our business, all that other stuff will take care of itself.”

Zion Chapel also finished runner-up in the Class 2A, Area 4 Tournament to Luverne. The Lady Rebels will play Wicksburg in the 2A South Regional Tournament.

“We played good enough to go to regionals but it wasn’t our best ball,” Zion Chapel Head Coach Ethan Deal said. “We competed well against Pike Lib and I think against Luverne, mentally, we weren’t where we needed to be. I don’t know if we were tired or what but we were better than what we showed. I’m proud of them for advancing to regionals, though.”

The Lady Rebels are playing in the regional tournament for the first time since 2018, a fact that is not lost on Deal.

“I’m very, very proud of this group as a whole,” Deal emphasized. “We graduated two seniors last year and we had two new players move in this season, so we’re still getting used to playing with each other. That’s one of the biggest obstacles; team chemistry and figuring out how to win and play together are big.

“We’re still doing that and I think our best ball is in front of us. I’m really proud of the way we’ve competed and I know if it clicks down here in Gulf Shores some special things can happen.”

Zion Chapel’s leaders include sophomore shortstop Shea Wambles, junior third baseman Madison Meeks, junior catcher Amber Kidd and sophomore pitcher Riley Bannin. Kidd leads ZCHS with a .459 batting average, while Kidd, Meeks and Wambles all hit four homers apiece this season. Meeks tallied three triples and 29 RBIs, while Wambles scored 35 runs. At catcher, Kidd caught 17 runners trying to steal and picked off three runners, while Wambles had 60 putouts with a .808 fielding percentage on defense. Bannin boasts a 2.658 ERA with 83 strikeouts in the circle.

Zion Chapel will need their best stuff against Wicksburg, who finished the regular season as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A. Wicksburg dominated their way through the Area 3 Tournament on their way to an area crown.

“They’re a very, very solid team,” Deal said. “I think this group of girls has played together for awhile and I think 90 percent of them paly travel ball, so they play year round and it shows.

“They’ve won right around 40 games and they were No. 1 in 2A, but this time of year statistics, numbers and rankings don’t matter. What matters is the nine we put on the field against their nine. If we go out there and play loose and confident then I think we can play with anyone we step on the field with.”

Deal said he wants to see his team play a complete game in regionals.

“If we go out and press and try to make it happen that’s when good things don’t happen,” he said. “We preached all year long you don’t have to do anything special, just go out and do what we do. It doesn’t matter where and when or who we play, if we play the way I know we can, we’ll be fine.

“We are a very talented group but what I want to see is I need to seven innings of complete ball. That is something we haven’t done all year but if we can put together 3-4 complete ball games from top to bottom I think some special things can happen for this team.”

Zion Chapel plays Wicksburg in the first round of the 2A South Regional at 11 a.m. on May 9, while Pike County battles WS Neal at 12:45 p.m. on May 9 in the 3A South Regional.