Panthers doomed by pool play losses

Caleb Turrentine / The Observer

Elmore County’s Madelyn Becker swings at a high pitch during the Panthers’ first game at Wetumpka’s tournament on Friday.

The Alabama Sports Writers Association released its first softball rankings of the year last week and several local teams made an appearance near the top of their classifications. But it was Elmore County and Tallassee’s softball teams who took the cake, earning the No. 1 spot in Class 4A and 5A, respectively. That marked the first time for both programs to reach the top of the softball rankings.

 “It’s good to reflect on it and say this is the work we have put in so far,” Tallassee coach Pat Love said. “My message to the girls is, ‘Where are we going to be in a month or the next month?’ Other teams are going to get better so we know we have to get better too.”

Tallassee (14-1) was coming off its championship victory at the Wetumpka Softball Tournament which included wins over two reigning state champions, including now-Class 5A No. 2 Hayden. The Tigers were riding a 14-game winning streak and it was enough to gain some statewide attention.

“I knew these would come out this week and we had a big weekend,” Love said. “I could sense a possible hangover from the weekend so I started addressing it on Monday. What we are right now doesn’t matter and that’s the truth. It’s where we will be at the end of April and beginning of May.”

Elmore County (14-3) certainly surprised the rest of the state when it jumped to the top of 4A without being ranked the last three seasons.

“I was definitely surprised by the one ranking,” ECHS coach Mark Segrest said. “For me, I don’t really consider ourselves a top-10 team right now. We have a lot of work to do and there are a lot of good teams in 4A. We have to stay focused on the goal at hand.”

Although rankings may not mean anything to the future results on the field, both coaches say being ranked No. 1 can serve as a confidence booster for players but they have to balance that with staying grounded. Tallassee and Elmore County will certainly have a target on their backs now but both teams believe is still an overall positive.

“What it does for the coaches, we are trying to create a new culture,” Segrest said. “The coaches and administration at Elmore County have done a phenomenal job at making softball a priority here. It gives them confirmation that their hard work is being recognized and there’s a big positive in that.”

To avoid getting comfortable at the top of the rankings, the coaches are trying not to talk too much about the rankings as a team. 

“I will address that (Thursday) but probably only once,” Segrest said. “I am proud of them to get the recognition but we have to focus and work on improvement. I don’t want anything else mentioned about rankings after that though.”

The two teams have competed in the same tournaments three times already this season but they are slated for their first regular season meeting Thursday at Tallassee. The matchup will have no effect on area standings but it may bring the most excitement the rivalry game has seen on a softball field in a long time.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” Love said.  “They do a really good job and they have some impressive games. Both of us really want to win. It will be fun for the community and really for everybody.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.