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Holtville’s Jordan Cousins, right, rounds third base while getting a signal from coach Darryl Otwell during the Class 4A East Central Regional Tournament on Friday.

For the first time since 2012, the Holtville softball team will be playing in the AHSAA State Tournament. The Bulldogs won three games at the Class 4A East Central Regional including a 6-2 victory over Leeds to clinch a spot in next week’s tournament at Lagoon Park.

“It’s been a great year and it’s been so much fun,” Holtville coach Darryl Otwell said. “These kids have worked so hard to be here. As a coach, you push them and you set goals but to see this group come back this year and do everything right, I love to see them succeed. This is a great achievement.”

Holtville (41-10) earned wins over Oak Grove and Northside to advance to the first state qualifier game against American Christian. The Bulldogs got on the scoreboard first with an RBI double by Cyndi Thornton in the first inning but ACA responded with four runs after just five batters in the bottom of the inning to take the lead. 

In the fifth inning, Holtville retook the lead on a three-run homer by Bella Farmer, her second of the tournament and fourth of the season. That lead was quickly erased though when ACA scored three runs after a two-out error in the infield to retake the lead for good. The Bulldogs eventually lost, 9-7.

“We have great senior leaders so I turned to them in that moment,” Otwell said. “They want to achieve greatness. I thought we competed well but American Christian got those timely hits and we couldn’t finish where we wanted to.”

After falling to in the regional championship game, Holtville moved to the consolation bracket with one more chance to move on to state. That time, Holtville took advantage grabbing a 6-2 victory to punch its ticket to state.

The Bulldogs fell behind when Leeds scored an unearned run in the second inning and the offense could not get going early.

“We have struggled in the past with manufacturing runs,” Otwell said. “We’re not the fastest team so we have to get a bunch of hits to get some runs. We had the bases loaded multiple times but we just couldn’t get that hit.”

KK Dismukes continued to pitch well, holding Leeds to just one run while striking out five in the first four innings of the game. With two outs in the top of the fifth inning, Leeds intentionally walked Dismukes at the plate which ignited the Bulldog rally.

“A little bit of panic was setting in because we weren’t getting hits. But we responded and played really well from about the fourth inning on. We settled in and made some adjustments to string together some big plays.”

Thornton singled and Farmer followed with walk to load the bases. Alexus Hindman came to the plate and an infield grounder caused some confusion between the Leeds pitcher and catcher, allowing the tying run to score.

After Dismukes struck out the side in the bottom of the fifth, Holtville came back with another two-out rally to take the lead. Leeds intentionally walked Dismukes again to load the bases for Thornton.

Thornton reached on an error, allowing the go-ahead run to score from third. Farmer followed with a three-run triple to put Holtville in control of the elimination game.

After the third weather delay of the weekend, Dismukes returned to the circle in the seventh inning to close the game. She pitched all 27 innings of the tournament for the Bulldogs despite allowing 13 runs in those four games.

“She’s been so dominant all year but I don’t think she had her best stuff the past two days,” Otwell said. “I don’t know if it was the rain but she’s a competitor. There was no doubt the ball was going to stay in her hand this tournament.”

Dismukes responded well to lead her team to victory in the final game and will play in her first state tournament before her high school career ends. The Bulldogs will continue to look to the Auburn signee to be the key to success during this week’s trip to Lagoon Park. 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.