It’s one thing to win a state title.
Defending that championship is another matter, but Macon-East seems up to the challenge.
“Going out and having the confidence to go out and play our game is the biggest confidence we have,” Knights coach Glynn Lott said. “You can’t teach that part. We can teach them to hit and run and do all that, but to have the confidence to go out there and think they can win when they get on the field? I think our kids believe that.”
The 2012 Alabama Independent School Association Class AAA champions opened this year’s state tournament with two wins Friday to reach the winner’s bracket finals where it will play Kingwood at 10 a.m. today at Lagoon Park
The Knights (45-9) beat Bessemer Academy, a fourth seed, 8-2, and third-seeded Springwood, 10-3 Friday.
“It’s hard,” Macon-East pitcher Deven Kennedy said. “That just means you’ve got to work harder, but it’s also exciting.”
Last year, the Knights ended Glenwood’s three-year championship run. They enter this year’s state tournament as the top seed and all the pressure that comes with that distinction.
“We’ve had to explain that at the beginning the year,” Lott said. “We weren’t doing as well because we were getting everybody’s best game. When you play the people that are good, you want to play good, too.”
Back in the state tournament, the Knights sound driven to meet and defeat all challengers.
“It is true motivation,” Macon-East second baseman Rachael Stough said. “Being out there, you always think somebody is going to bring you their best game. So you have to be better.”
Lagoon Park isn’t foreign territory for Macon-East. The Knights not only won last year’s tournament at Lagoon Park, but have players who competed there while on a travel team last summer.
“We know what’s going to bounce higher,” Stough said. “What’s going to stay down on the ground. It’s a big advantage for us.”
Lott said the Knights have solid pitching and play standout defense, but the team’s hitting ability it what sets them apart.
“We can hit it one through nine,” Lott said.
In Friday’s opening win against Bessemer, Stough got two hits as the ninth hitter. Last year, Paxton Searle had 11 RBIs as the ninth hitter in the state tournament to earn a spot on the all-tournament team as an eighth-grader.
“When the bottom of your order can hit?” Lott said. “They do. We hit the ball one through nine usually, and that’s good.”
The Knights broke a 2-2 tie with a three-run, fourth inning to break the Bessemer game open.
“We kind of fell apart there in the beginning,” Stough said. “We weren’t really ready, but then we got hits and everybody got fired up. Started working together as a team, and when we work together as a team, we do a lot better.”
Lott said Macon-East’s success can also be credited to playing a slew of games.
“We do play a bunch of games, and we just feel like you get the experience just by being on the field,” Lott said. “You can’t duplicate a game-type situation. In the middle of the year, we may get a little tired.
The Knights competed in a tournament in Tennessee this year.
“We haven’t played a lot lately, so we’ve had a little bit of time to rest than we normally do in the regular season,” Lott said. “Our philosophy is to play and get better.”
The Generals (22-6) defeated Clarke Prep 4-2. Riley Donahey was the winning pitcher with seven strikeouts. Kala Rooney homered, and Abby Hinson had two hits.
In Game 2, Autauga Academy beat Wilcox Academy 3-1. Riley Donahey was the winning pitcher with eight strikeouts. Mary Jackson Hardin and Taylor Ammons each added two hits.
The Generals will face Lowndes Academy at 10 a.m. today in the winner’s bracket game.