Clash of the titans: Tigers host Bulldogs in top-ranked showdown

File / The Herald

Holtville’s Jordan Cousins enters Thursday’s game with Tallassee on a 10-game hitting streak.

When Tallassee moved to Class 5A, there were some questions about whether it would affect the importance of some of the local rivalry games this season. And even though Thursday’s softball matchup with Holtville will not count toward any area standings, there is still plenty on the line between two of the top-ranked teams in the state.

The Bulldogs enter Thursday night as the No. 2 team in Class 4A while the Tigers sit at No. 3 in 5A. The two teams will meet for the second time this season but now both are preparing for the postseason and want to use this game as a way to build momentum entering the season’s final stretch.

“When I stepped foot on campus, this is what we had in mind,” Holtville coach Darryl Otwell said. “Our goal was to be a top-tier program and play against other top-tier programs. This is one of those games you want to be a part of.”

Holtville (26-7) has held the edge in the rivalry series over the last few seasons, including a 5-2 victory March 7. Since 2014, the Bulldogs have a 12-5 record against Tallassee including wins in five of the last six meetings.

Tallassee (25-4) has won the season series only once over the last five seasons, sweeping Holtville in 2017. However, in those 17 meetings, the Bulldogs have averaged 0.6 more runs than the Tigers per game.

“The players are going to be into it and you know the fans are going to be into it so the emotions are going to be high,” Tallassee coach Pat Love said. “This is the kind of game that can prepare you for the regional play and those postseason games.”

In the game earlier this season, Tallassee jumped out to a 1-0 lead after Chloe Baynes reached base on a bunt single and stole second before coming around to score on an error in the first inning. However, Holtville responded with a home run from KK Dismukes and took the lead on an RBI single by Cyndi Thornton two innings later.

Dismukes was dominant on the mound in the victory, striking out seven and allowing just one earned run in a complete game. The Tigers expect to see Dismukes again Thursday but Love said his team feels up to the challenge.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Love said. “That’s one of the best teams we’ll face all year. It’s going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes and who can make that final play. We expect it to be a close game.”

Tallassee enters the game as winners in eight of its last nine games and is getting production from two stars in the circle. Sinclair Cole responded well from the first adversity she faced this season, pitching two complete-game victories during last week’s tournament in Florida.

Meanwhile, Tallassee ace Jordan Walters has lowered her ERA to 1.53 and is now 15-4 on the season. Love said he was still undecided on who would be taking the mound against Holtville but it’s safe to say either would be a challenge for Holtville hitters.

Otwell said Tallassee’s offense is a cause of concern as well because of the variety of ways the Tigers can score runs. Holtville has already fallen victim to the speed of Baynes this season but Tallassee also has four players who have hit multiple home runs this season.

“They have a great ball club and a lot of young talent,” Otwell said. “They have very good offensive players. They bunt well but can still hit with a lot of power too. It’s very hard to find a way to beat them.”

While Dismukes has been Holtville’s ace again this season, Otwell said a decision on Thursday’s starter has not been made. The Bulldogs had games on Monday and Tuesday this week so Otwell said those games will determine who gets the nod against Tallassee.

“Our main focus is transitioning into a playoff mindset,” Otwell said. “We’re going to have to start thinking about limiting KK’s pitch count. I wouldn’t be surprised to see (Alexus) Hindman start on Thursday.”

If Holtville decides against Dismukes, there has not been much of a drop off to Hindman this season. In 12 appearances, she has allowed just three runs while striking out 69 batters in 42 innings.