Elmore County’s softball team is no stranger to pressure situations this season.
After losing the second game of their double-elimination area tournament, the Panthers rallied to take three straight victories and win the area crown.
After Elmore County lost its first game at the Tuscaloosa regional, it rattled off four straight victories, each in elimination games, to advance to the state tournament.
Such experience could serve the Panthers well Tuesday and potentially Wednesday, when the team will battle for the AHSAA Class 5A state softball championship alongside seven other schools in a double-elimination tournament.
“All year we’ve played a very competitive schedule. We’ve been in a lot of close games,” Elmore County head coach Mark Segrest said. “We’ve won more than our fair share of close games. Virtually every game in this tournament is gonna be really close.”
Any argument against Aubrey Allen as the team’s ace in the circle would be a losing one.
With a devastating mix of spin and control on her pitches, the junior has tossed more than half of the team’s innings this season and boasts a 1.61 ERA with 241 strikeouts against just 37 walks.
That’s 6.51 fans for every free pass she issues.
She picked up wins in each of Elmore County’s three elimination games Thursday, including a complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts and no walks against Demopolis in the second round of losers bracket play.
When not relying on Allen the Panthers will turn to Maci Curlee, who’s posted a 2.47 ERA this year. In the regional semifinals against John Carroll Catholic, Curlee tossed 5.1 innings of one-run ball before giving way to Allen.
Hailey O’Brien can also perform spot duty for the Panthers, with 56.2 innings and a 2.48 ERA to her credit this season.
“My message to them is, don’t get sidetracked with all the emotions in the stands, from our side or the opposing side,” Segrest said. “Just do what you’re used to doing.”
Segrest said his plan is to start with Allen, then turn to Curlee if Elmore County advances in the state tournament, and added all three arms should see action.
“This is do or die,” Segrest said. “All three pitchers are ready and we’ll go with the hot hand.”
One area where the Panthers struggled at times in Tuscaloosa, according to Segrest, was in situational hitting and their ability to lay down bunts.
Elmore County scored one run in eight innings against John Carroll before pulling away with a two-run ninth to capture an extra-inning victory. In its lone regional loss to Brewbaker Tech, the Panthers left five runners stranded in scoring position in a 6-2 defeat.
“I just told the girls to flush that tournament,” Segrest said. “This is a new tournament, and we’ve hit the ball extremely well all year and have bunted well, done all the little things well. So you don’t want to oversell the fact that we kind of had an off tournament. I told the girls to be confident in what they’re doing, they know the fundamentals.”
Madelyn Becker and Madison Britt provide the Panthers with power in their lineup, with 10 and seven home runs, respectively. Kelley Green has proved the team’s most reliable contact hitter with a .363 batting average, tops amongst the squad’s starters.
Green’s added a team-high 24 stolen bases.
The Panthers open tournament play against Hayden, the top qualifier from the Florence regional, Tuesday at 9 a.m.
“They have a phenomenal hitting team,” Segrest said about Hayden. “They have several players that are committed at the D-1 level. I think they’ve hit over 60 home runs this season already. They are battle tested, I know they’ve won at least a couple of state championships. They’ve been here before, and nothing’s going to surprise them, so it’s an incredible first test.”