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Lady Wildcats headed to Tuscaloosa

Making the regional tournament four the fourth season in a row was a goal that the members of the Tharptown Lady Wildcats varsity softball team had in mind all season, or perhaps even all year.

The team’s fourth-straight area title made that goal come true, as the Lady Wildcats will compete in the next level of the postseason starting this Friday morning.

“It’s very exciting,” Tharptown head coach Susie Sellers said. “It’s exciting for our girls because they worked so hard for it. To see them reach a goal they set for the season is great. It makes you proud.”

Making it out of the competitive Class 1A Area 11 is no easy accomplishment, but the accolades seem to be racking up for Tharptown this year. The team is headed to another regional tournament and ranked in the ASWA top 10 for the first time while doing so.

“It goes above and beyond the season,” Sellers said. “They worked really hard at practice, and I don’t ever have a problem with kids missing practice.

“What makes them stand above everyone else in my eyes is they take it upon themselves to take extra batting practice, go to the field on their own and work, pitch on their own. They do a lot outside of practice.

“In November I still had five or six girls playing fall ball, and it helps to have girls play outside of the season.

“We had eight or nine girls play travel ball, and that makes a lot of difference, especially when they play for coaches who teach kind of the way we teach. It makes a big difference.”

While coaching is a big factor in how successful a team will be during a season, Sellers prefers to look elsewhere for the reasons why the Lady Wildcats have had such success lately.

“You have to give the credit to the girls,” she said. “They are an awesome group, and they work so hard.

“It’s almost overwhelming for me as a coach, but I had great help with Matt [Sellers], Sander [Tverberg] and Tyrone [Lowrey.]

“The girls will tell you now; it’s not just winning the area and making the regionals anymore. They want to win a state title.

“They’ve said that for years. Last year actually making it to Montgomery, they see it’s a realistic goal; it could happen.

“They saw what it takes to get there, they know what their weaknesses are. and they’ll work on it.”

The level of the playoffs, the regionals, has not changed. However, the venue the Lady Wildcats will be playing in and the teams they will be facing have changed indeed.

Tharptown, which has always played at Huntsville when making the North Regional, will now play at Tuscaloosa in the North Central Regional.

The AHSAA has effectively broken up the teams found here in Franklin County, ads Red Bay will compete in Huntsville still.

The reasons for the switch are confusing at bets, as the Lady Wildcats will have to travel farther to Tuscaloosa than in years past to Huntsville.

“I have come to this conclusion after speaking with several people, and it’s the only thing that makes it make sense to me,” Sellers said.

“We are the only school from the county in this regional tournament. But the venue has changed.

“Vestavia Hills used to host, but they gave it up, and now it’s moved to Tuscaloosa. Vestavia Hills used to have the winner of the area with Decatur Heritage, Meek, Falkville and those schools.

“If you look at the map we’re closer to Tuscaloosa than Decatur Heritage, Falkville and Meek.

“I guess that’s their justification, and that’s how it was explained to me. You can hardly question the AHSAA. They have the higher power, and you have to do what they say.”

People who were used to watching all of Franklin County’s teams compete in one place will now find themselves unable to watch both 1A and 2A schools in the same place, and the different regionals are played at the same time across the state.

While the venue has changed, the fact that teams must perform well to move on to the state tournament remains the same.

“We’re going to have to execute,” Sellers said. “If I call a bunt they have to get it down. If I call a hit and run they’ve got to make it happen.

“They have to execute in the box whatever I call. That is one of our biggest weaknesses, and that’s what they have to do to make it [to state.]

“Last year at regionals whatever I called they got it done, and that’s what they’ll have to do again.

“We’ll also have to defend the bun t well, because that’s what other teams do. They’re going to bunt and bunt, and make you make mistakes.

“We’ll have to defend well, make plays and not crack under pressure. We need to do what we do, stay confident and not buckle under pressure.”

While Coach Sellers is reluctant to admit it, the number of quality opponents found at the regional tournament in Tuscaloosa exceeds that in Huntsville.

In fact, five of the ASWA top 10 may be found in this single regional.

“The teams are good at both places,” she said. “The north regional has Athens Bible and Decatur Heritage, which are ranked.

“I guess the confidence factor changes, because when we were at Huntsville we knew the teams and the fields.

“Now we’re going into a new region with South Lamar, Berry, Parrish and Sumiton Christian. All of those are top 10 teams.

“The teams there seem to be a little bit better. Usually your state winner comes out of that region.

“Ragland was in that region last year and they’ve won for the last three years. They moved to Troy.

“I don’t think our girls are scared of anyone, but there are good teams at Tuscaloosa.”

Tharptown will face off against Southeastern in the first round of the regional at 8 a.m. Friday morning before playing either Berry or Parrish, either one a top 10 opponent.

Any if necessary games will be played Saturday in the double-elimination tourney.