MA perfect in Day 1 of State Tourney
MONTGOMERY — The Marengo Academy Lady Longhorns (31-4) were near perfect on day one of the AISA Class AA State Tournament at Lagoon Park, routing Crenshaw 15-0 before downing Lowndes 5-0.
However, head coach Todd Mathis has seen his team go down this road before and showed no signs of getting excited Friday night after the top-ranked and top-seeded Lady Longhorns dispatched their first two opponents with relative ease.
“We’ve been here before,” Mathis, whose team is seeking its first state championship since the program launched in 1999, said. In each of the previous two seasons, the MA ladies entered the second day of play unscathed, appearing to be the best team in the bracket before Saturday struggles led to long rides home as state runners-up. Two years ago it was Lowndes that bounced MA and won the title. In 2009, it was Lakeside. This season, the ladies will try to navigate their way around the obstacle that is Springwood.
“We’ve got to stay as loose as we were (Friday),” Mathis said. “We don’t have to do anything different. When (the Lady Longhorns) are laughing and giggling and playing, they are tough to beat.”
Mathis is now reliant upon the same laid back personality traits that his players have used to frustrate him all season long. And he is hopeful they will be a perfect contrast to a Springwood team that looks to embody the villain in Marengo Academy’s 2010 chapter.
Springwood is a larger, power-hitting squad with a coach noted as a travel ball guru. The Springwood ladies don red and black and enter the field to loud hip-hop beats emitted from a similarly adorned speaker that still made its presence known even at the state tournament Friday. The squad is louder, more boisterous and perennially excited, traits that mirror that of their head coach.
They will be vastly different from a Lady Longhorn team that offsets its laid back demeanor with an on-field reliance upon speed, crafty pitching and defense.
“I think they are going to stay loose,” Mathis said of his players. “They want it, but I think they are going to stay just the same (as they have all season).”
The 10 a.m. match-up with Springwood is vitally important as the winner will sit until 2 p.m. when it will play the team that emerges from the losers bracket. A win in the 2 p.m. contest would end the tournament. On a much different path is the loser of the 10 a.m. game, a squad that will be required to play four games consecutively and win three in a row in order to win the state title.
The Lady Longhorns found their stride early against Crenshaw, using hot bats to back up the lights out pitching performance of junior Jessica Brock and freshman Ally Vick. That tandem combined to pitch a five-inning no-hitter.
Offensively, freshman shortstop Katie Tucker set the tone out of the lead-off spot, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and four RBIs, including a three-run home run.
“I feel like an idiot for putting her (in the lead-off spot) because she’s got so much pop in her bat,” Mathis said. “But it is so nice to have someone up there that can make something happen early.”
Destiny Huckabee went 3-for-4 with a double, and RBI and two runs. Kaleigh Robison went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Brock was 2-for-3 with a double, a run and two RBIs. Anna Edmonds went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI. Reesa Holifield was 1-for-2 with a run. Shelby Mathis was 2-for-2 with two runs scored while Nicole Langley was 3-for-3 with two runs.
In the second game of the day, the Lady Longhorns got an RBI triple from Holifield in the second inning to plate Brock and grab the early 1-0 lead in the second inning. Mathis then picked up an RBI single. Tucker struck again in the third with a triple before ultimately scoring on a Robison RBI. Tucker singled and scored in the fifth while Edmonds doubled in Brock.
The Lady Longhorns also got it done in the pitcher’s circle as Brock pitched a complete game, allowing only four hits and striking out nine.
“Critical,” Mathis said of Brock’s efficiency and success and efficiency. “Most of these teams, one pitcher is all they’ve got. Early in the year she was not very efficient. But that has changed. The walks have come down a lot.”