0508-Softball regional pre.jpg

David Gray / For The Herald Holtville coach Darryl Otwell hopes to lead the Bulldogs over the hump and into the state tournament for the first time since 2013.

There are just 32 teams remaining in each classification as the AHSAA softball season begins to wind down. Those teams will be split up into four regionals across the state this week with play beginning Thursday morning.

Wetumpka is coming off an area championship and is looking to carry that momentum into this week’s trip to Oxford. The Indians will begin play in the East Central Regional at noon on Thursday against Chelsea.

“We really haven’t had a great year but I think these girls are starting to believe in themselves for the first time,” Wetumpka coach Jimmy Reeves said after winning the area tournament. “We’re starting to play together and we might have a chance at something big, you never know.”

Stanhope Elmore finished as the area runner up to Wetumpka but still qualified for the regional after defeating Selma. The Mustangs have still won seven of their last nine games and will begin play against Helena on Thursday.

“We have to get back to work,” Stanhope coach Virginia Barber said. “We’ve got this week to scout some of those teams we’re going to match up with but we have to get back to work.”

While no game at this point in the postseason will be easy, Wetumpka and Stanhope are looking at one of the easier regionals in Class 6A. Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa is the only team which was ranked in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association softball poll, which put the Patriots at No. 10 in 6A.

Most of the region seems evenly matched and any team is capable of putting together a three-game winning streak to secure a spot in next week’s state tournament at Lagoon Park. Stanhope Elmore is 1-1 against the other teams in the regional this year, defeating Opelika and losing to Chelsea, while Wetumpka has not faced any of the other six teams.

Holtville will also be traveling to Choccolocco Park in Oxford on Thursday. The Bulldogs have been one of the top teams in 4A all season but they have not made it past regionals since 2013.

“In the past few years, we were satisfied in just making it,” Holtville coach Darryl Otwell said. “I think a lot of eyes are on us right now. My challenge to our team is to keep working this week so we can extend this thing. I think we have the talent to make a run.”

The Bulldogs are currently riding a 10-game winning streak and will open play at 10:30 a.m. against Oak Grove. Every coach wants their team to be playing its best softball at the end of the season and Otwell believes his team is right where it needs to be.

“I think we’re hitting the ball well and we’re playing good defense,” Otwell said. “If we continue to play the way we’re playing, we’re going to be a tough team to beat. We’re probably playing some of our best softball right now.”

Elmore County will join the Bulldogs in the 4A East Central Regional after finishing as the area’s runner-up. The Panthers could not pull off the upset at Holtville and will be forced to play No. 10 Leeds in the opening round.

The Panthers have won 10 of their last 12 games against teams which are not Holtville. If Elmore County gets another chance at the Bulldogs, it will likely be with a spot in the state tournament on the line and coach Kim Moncrief continues to have high hopes for her team.

“I do think we’re clicking at the right time,” Moncrief said. “Our pitching has been doing really well. Offensively, we’re keying in on some good hits at the right times.”

This regional has the second most ranked teams (3-Holtville, American Christian, Leeds) among 4A regionals and it will not be an easy path for any team. The top two teams from each regional will secure a spot in the state tournament but there is no room to look ahead at this point in the year.

“Once you make it to Lagoon, anything can happen,” Otwell said. “You have to get there first though.”