By Wil Crews
The Beulah Bobcats varsity softball team came up short of a state title last weekend, losing on the second day of the AHSAA 3A State Tournament and finishing fourth overall in the state in their respective classification.
“You know I’m really pleased that our girls performed like they did,” said head coach Stan Pepper. “It was a tough environment heat wise and weather wise. Only having 10 or 11 girls on the roster, we had probably the smallest roster of anybody at the final eight. They gave me everything they had and we just came up a little short. Overall I’m just so happy for the girls; they did a tremendous job. I’m so proud of them.”
The Bobcats battled through intense heat, injuries and a player quarantine to win three games on the tournament’s first day, before losing 11-2 to the Houston Academy Raiders on Saturday, officially ending their season.
Beulah won its first game on Friday against Houston Academy, 7-5. The Raiders got things going in the second inning with a sacrifice bunt, scoring one run. Beulah quickly responded in the bottom of the inning with two runs to take the 2-1 lead.
Two more runs in the third gave the Bobcats a 4-1 lead before the Raiders narrowed the gap with two runs in the top of the fifth. Again, Beulah responded. This time, scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning to take a firmer grip on the game. Houston Academy had a valiant ninth inning effort, rallying for two more runs. However, it was too little too late, and the Bobcats emerged with a 7-5 victory.
“I thought we played more of a complete game than we have played all year,” Pepper said. “A lot of people were shocked – I wasn’t. Me and the coaching staff knew that was us, that was our team. And we just needed to go out and prove it to everybody else and that first game they did.”
The offensive performance for Beulah was led by Katie Morris, who also held her own as the starting pitcher on the mound. Morris allowed 11 hits and five runs over seven innings, striking out eight; she went 2-for-2 at the plate, with a double, three runs scored and one RBI. Kassidy Kirby had a strong day at the plate, going 1-for-2 with a homerun which drove in two base runners. Anna Grey and Kyleigh Morgan both had two RBI’s of their own. Seven out of nine Beulah batters recorded hits and all nine batters reached base.
“I was really pleased with the bottom half of our lineup … they really came through for us in that game and we strung a lot of hits together and got some runs on the board,” Pepper said. “We played well defensively. Then we just had to hang on in the end.”
The second game of the tournament saw Beulah fall, 2-0, to the Prattville Christian Academy Panthers. The Bobcats were stifled by PCA pitcher Landyn McAnnally. McAnnally struck out 12 Beulah batters in total, allowing just two hits.
“She was a very intimidating figure in the circle,” Pepper said of McAnnally. “So the girls … it took a little while to get accustom to her.”
The Panthers registered both of their two runs in the third inning. That proved to be enough as Beulah was unable to muster even a sniff of a rally. Brandy Phillips started the game on the mound for Beulah, throwing 2.1 innings to give Morris some much needed rest. Morris pitched the final 3.2 innings.
“There was a couple umpire calls that changed the difference in that game,” Pepper said begrudgingly.
The third game of the tournament pushed Beulah to the brink. Facing Mobile Christian, a loss would have eliminated the Bobcats from the tournament. Morris found herself on the mound again and pitched a complete game shutout. Pitching was strong on both sides, however, as Morris struck out three and Mobile Christian’s Tori Taylor struck out nine; both teams had just five hits in total. The matchup was even at zero until the top of the sixth inning when Beulah’s Savannah Clements drove in the would-be winning run with the help of an error by the Mobile Christian defense. One run was enough as Morris and the Bobcats claimed the 1-0 victory.
“Over the last three weeks I don’t know how many one nothing, two-to-one games we’ve won, but we’ve won a bunch of them,” Pepper said. “So we knew what we needed to do in those situations and we don’t fear those situations.”
With the win, Beulah had secured participation in at least one more game and was slated for a rematch against Houston Academy on Saturday for a chance to play in the semifinals.
The two teams met on the diamond early Saturday morning. Both teams had played a grueling three-game set the day before and now it was time to test the mental and physical endurance of both teams. Pepper admitted that his girls looked worn down in warmups.
Despite that, the Bobcats looked the sharper of the two teams early, jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a Phillips single. The Raiders responded by scoring a run in each of the next two innings to take a slim 2-1 lead. Beulah tied things up in the top of the fourth and the two teams looked destined for a back and forth affair. That’s when it all went wrong. The Houston Academy offense erupted in the bottom of the fourth. A few costly errors by the Bobcats (seven in total) and a succession of singles from the Raiders resulted in Houston Academy plating seven runs in the inning – taking the lead for good. The Raiders scored two more in the bottom of the sixth to dispatch Beulah, 11-2. Houston Academy would go on to lose to eventual 3A champion, Plainview, in the next round.
The Bobcats finishes 26-17 on the year. Although they did not attain their ultimate goal of winning a state championship, Pepper appreciates the success of this team and realizes Beulah has a lot to look forward to in the future.
“I don’t have any seniors,” Pepper said. “We only have two juniors so we are really still a young team. We did get a lot of experience and we came closer than I think people realized. In the end, we just came up short and wound up being the number four team in the state, so I’m happy about that, but at the same time our goal was to go win it all so we fell short of that goal. But that’s going to be our goal next year. Our goal next year will be to win the state championship.”