Tears of joy ran down the faces of the four Haleyville seniors as they ran toward center field to receive their Class 4A champions trophy.
It took two games and 18 innings, but the Lions found a way to defeat Alabama Christian and defend its title.
“Twice is nice,” Haleyville coach Kelly Rushing said. “Nobody expected us to win it last year; everybody thought it was a fluke. We knew better. We worked hard all year. We knew we didn’t lose anybody off last year’s team, and we knew when we showed up down here we still didn’t get any respect. No one knew who we were. I hope they know now.”
Tournament MVP Holly Ward pitched a perfect game as the Lions won its second title, edging ACA 8-0.
Ward, a junior, was dominant throughout the tournament, but it was her performance in the championship that earned her second-consecutive MVP award.
As if a shutout wasn’t enough, Ward tacked on a two-run homer in the fourth to extend the Lions advantage to four.
“Holly Ward is the best pitcher in 4A softball,” Rushing said. “I think she’s the best pitcher in the state of Alabama in softball. She’s a junior. She’s our go-to pitcher. She’s never let us down.”
The Mississippi state verbal commitment finished the title game 3-for-4 with three RBIs, a double and a home run.
Junior Tori Pendley put the Lions on the board early with a RBI double to left field.
Despite an eight-run advantage, Haleyville’s title didn’t come easily.
Top-ranked ACA handed Hayleyville its first loss of the tournament in an 11-inning battle to force a Game 2.
Sophomore Caitlin Perry pitched a shutout that included 11 strikeouts, but it was Jordan Jones who gave the Eagles the edge it needed to win. With one out and two runners on base, Jones connected for a game-winning RBI double.
Senior second-baseman Maggie Mills’ sacrifice bunt added another run. Mills finished with one hit and one RBI.
Haleyville didn’t let the loss shake it. The team found a way to hang on, grabbing a two-run lead in the second before cruising to victory.
“I told them when we were in the 11th inning that we could go all night,” Ward said. “We knew we could do it. We knew we could. Callie Pendley told us after we lost, “We came in this champions, and we’re leaving champions,” and you better believe it, because it happened.”