For Lowndes Academy, five years was far too long to wait for another state championship.
Junior Paige Hill ripped a two-run homer and pitched the final three innings in leading the Rebels past Autauga Academy 8-1 in the AISA Class AA title game Saturday night at Lagoon Park.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Rebels senior second baseman Hailey Wilkinson said. “It feels like a dream. I don’t feel like I’m here. I really don’t. I’ve dreamed this before. I really have.”
The Rebels (29-7) won their fourth AISA state title with the final three (2007, 2008, 2013) being in Class AA. Lowndes took the Class A championship in 2006.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these kids,” Rebels coach Matt Marshall said. “I’ve had every one of them since seventh grade. I only have three travel ball players. The ball they get is with us and they buy in.
“They play hard. We don’t have the most talent in the world, but we do with what we got and they buy into what we’re trying to preach to them. The kids play with so much dedication to what we’re doing.”
After the game, the Rebels had an emotional gathering around senior shortstop Shelby Pitts, who hasn’t played since fracturing the femur in her right leg and tibia and fibula in her left leg in a car accident with an 18-wheeler during the season.
“It was a deep loss losing her on the team,” Lowndes sophomore catcher Jessica Gallardo said. “She’s a really, really influential player and she always pumped us up. She always got us outs. She deserved this.”
Sitting in a wheelchair, Pitts couldn’t contain her tears of joy.
“It means everything,” Pitts said. “I’m so glad I got to be here to watch my team win this because we’ve been talking about it all year.”
As for the Generals (21-9), they needed to beat Lowndes twice to win the school’s first AISA crown. The Rebels beat them 12-0 in the winners bracket final in five innings Saturday.
Autauga played better in the rematch, but still lost to the Rebels.
“Nobody expected them to be here, I can promise you that,” Generals coach Ashley Blocker said. “I told them from day one when I came in that this is where our goal was.”
In reaching the state title game, Lowndes scored 36 runs in three games while Autauga managed 11 runs in four games. Looking at that alone, the Rebels had an advantage in offensive firepower, but didn’t need to light up the scoreboard to beat Autauga again.
“We could have won a 3-1 game,” Marshall said. “I’m just proud of them.”
In the final inning, Hill started a double play by fielding a ball hit directly at her and throwing to second base and closed out the game with a strikeout.
“I’ve never seen a pitcher like that,” eighth-grade shortstop Abby Ray said. “She’s amazing.”
Strong pitching aside, Lowndes’ offense, led by Hill, still set the tone.
Up 2-0 in the third, Hill took Riley Donhey deep to center field to score Ray and double the lead.
“I was ready,” said Hill, who was named tournament MVP. “I’ve been working hard all season on my bat and it’s finally pushing through. I’ve been popped out so I was about due.”
It was her third home run of the state tournament.
“Paige put us on our shoulders,” Marshall said. “She carried us a long way.”