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Lady Longhorns stampede Springwood for state title

MONTGOMERY — On a day that started with Jessica Brock striking out the Springwood side in the first, the Marengo Academy Lady Longhorns (33-4) ended it when they captured their first AISA Class AA State Championship Saturday, downing Springwood 11-1 in the decisive game.

The Lady Longhorns, the tournament’s No. 1 seed and state’s top-ranked team, entered the day with a 10 a.m. appointment with Springwood and the memory of Saturday setbacks in each of the previous two years. Brock set the tone early with three consecutive strikeouts before MA broke through in the first inning of play. The speed at the top of the MA lineup paid dividends as a wild pitch allowed Destiny Huckabee to score from second and Kaleigh Robison to score from first, giving the Lady Longhorns a 2-0 lead. A Katie Tucker RBI single in the second plated Shelby Mathis to stretch the MA lead to 3-0.

Still, it was defense that proved to be the story for the Lady Longhorns in the first game as a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play all but killed a Springwood chance in the third. On that play, Tucker ranged over from her shortstop position, caught the ball on the right field side of second base and, while sliding toward right, applied the tag to the Springwood runner. Tucker made another eye-popping play in the sixth when she ran into short right center to catch a flare before firing to first to nab the Springwood, turning two to end that inning.

“That’s the best I’ve seen them play, ever,” Marengo Academy head coach Todd Mathis said of his team’s defensive performance.

Holifield picked up an RBI in the third when she dropped down a squeeze bunt to plate Robison and extend the lead to 4-0. The final run of the day came in the fourth when Nicole Langley reached on an infield single to start the rally, giving way to pinch runner Chandler Stenz, who promptly swiped second base. Stenz moved to third on a Tucker groundout and then scored MA’s fifth run on a Huckabee infield single. Brock, the eventual tournament MVP, threw seven innings, striking out eight and allowing only four hits.

The win moved MA out of the winner’s bracket and into the 2 p.m. game unscathed. There, they met Springwood again after SA advanced past Lowndes Academy with a 3-1 win.

SA established itself early as shortstop Katelyn Moore led off the game with a home run, accounting for the only run Marengo surrendered in the two-day tournament. Brock bounced back with two strikeouts in the first inning before adding two more in the second. Sandwiched in between, she helped herself at the plate with two RBIs in the bottom of the first when she stroked a double that scored Huckabee and Robison.

MA held the 2-1 lead until the fourth when Mathis’ small-ball approach netted five more Marengo runs. Mathis reached on an error to start the inning, eventually scoring on a Tucker RBI single. Tucker then made it home on a Robison RBI single. Brock helped herself again, roping a two-RBI single to plate Huckabee and Robison. Stenz, running for Brock, later scored on a Holifield squeeze bunt.

Marengo Academy toted the 7-1 lead into the fifth and watched Brock fan two more hitters to get the Lady Longhorns back in the batter’s box.

Langley reached with a one-out single, giving way to Stenz again. Tucker then ripped another single. Huckabee’s infield single plated Stenz. Robison then hit an RBI single to bring Tucker in and move the lead to 9-1.

Brock came up big again with a double that initially appeared to end the game via the 10-run rule. However, the ball, which was hit into the left field corner, caromed out of the field of play, requiring Robison to stay at third. Brock’s fifth RBI of the game scored Huckabee and left MA one run away from its first state title with Robison, a senior, at third and Anna Edmonds, also a senior, at the plate.

Edmonds accounted for the walk-off, ripping a single into the gap in right-center, bringing in Robison to end the championship drought.

“I’ll always remember that moment that the seniors finished it off,” Edmonds said.

Edmonds, Robison and Mathis, the three seniors on the MA roster, were part of the 2007 MA junior high squad that ignited a string of four straight AISA junior high state champions. Edmonds said she believes that trend will continue with the players who remain on the varsity roster.

“This is definitely the beginning. We started it of in junior high. We’ve won four in a row. I think they’ll do varsity the same way,” Edmonds, who tore her ACL during basketball season and played the entirety of the softball campaign in a brace, said. “I’m so happy that I made it through the whole season. I was so afraid I wouldn’t.”

Brock, a junior, scattered three hits and struck out seven over five innings of work while also going 3-for-3 at the plate with two doubles and five RBIs. For the tournament, Brock was 4-0 with 29 strikeouts over 23 innings of work. She allowed only 11 hits over that span while going 7-for-12 at the plate with three doubles and eight RBIs.

“She’s just a special kid,” Mathis said of his junior hurler. “There is a reason she is in the four hole. I know she can stroke it.” The win pushed Brock’s record to 25-1 on the season. Her dominance in the final four games helped the Lady Longhorns outscored their opponents 36-1 in the state tournament.

“I was thinking we were going to have one game 1-0, 2-1, something like that. I never though they would do what they did,” Mathis said of his team’s run. “They kept believing and they knew, sooner or later, they were going to get one and they finally got it. That’s the best they played, bar none. They almost played a perfect series. After years of coming over here and trying to play well, they finally got it right.”

MA also landed Robison and the freshman duo of Tucker and Holifield on the all-tournament team.