In a loaded 32-team field at the Alex Wilcox Tournament in Montgomery last weekend, Holtville found itself among the final four teams standing after winning its first four games. However, the Bulldogs (19-5) ran into Class 6A No. 4 Gardendale and fell 3-1 after allowing three runs in the first inning of the semifinal game.

“These girls don’t like to lose no matter who we play,” Holtville coach Darryl Otwell said. “But everybody we played in this tournament has a great team and great coaches. We like the challenge because we’re trying to prepare for postseason play.”

Gardendale was the third team in the rankings Holtville faced during the tournament. One error in the top of the first inning cost the Bulldogs three runs and the team could not bounce back against Gardendale’s top pitcher.

“We didn’t do a good job of hitting the ball but credit to their pitcher,” Otwell said. “She was great at keeping us off balance. She had a weird spin on the ball that we just couldn’t figure out.”

Cyndi Thornton had an RBI double in the third inning but the Bulldogs could muster only three hits across five innings. Alexus Hindman pitched four scoreless innings in relief but it was not enough for Holtville to make it to the championship game.

“I thought we had some good swings at times but we just couldn’t execute how we wanted,” Otwell said. “You’re facing girls who are going to be on the mound with a chance to win a state championship in late May. That’s good for us because we don’t know what the playoffs hold for us. That’s some top pitching we faced.”

The loss to Gardendale came on the heels of a quarterfinal victory against Class 7A No. 2 Spain Park. Holtville’s offense struggled against the Jaguar pitcher but got just enough run support for KK Dismukes to earn the victory.

In the fifth inning, Bella Farmer got the only hit of the game for the Bulldogs with a single to right field. She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Haley Walker, setting up Alexus Hindman to drive in the run.

Hindman hit a fly ball to right field and Farmer tagged up, attempting to advance to third base with two outs. The throw got away from the third baseman and Farmer sprinted home for the only run of the game.

“Sometimes you have to be a little more aggressive in those games,” Otwell said. “We tagged up with a runner on second, kind of a gamble, but the ball bounced our way. Next thing you know the ball kicks away and we get a run. Sometimes you need those breaks.”

That run was all Dismukes needed for her 16th win of the season. She pitched a complete game, throwing six innings and striking out 12 batters along the way. The Jaguars threatened in the final inning with two runners in scoring position but Dismukes got Spain Park’s Maddie Majors to pop out after a six-minute at bat to end the game.

“Anytime you play a team like Spain Park, you know the runs are going to be limited,” Otwell said. “We played them early in the year and we didn’t play great so I really challenged our girls to show up and compete hard.”

Holtville got wins over Faith Academy, Baker and Montgomery Catholic during pool play to advance to the quarterfinals. Dismukes had five hits, including a home run, during the three victories.

“We still had a great week of softball,” Otwell said after the loss to Gardendale. “I’m still very happy with the way we played this week. Anytime you can go 6-1 in a week and beat a lot of 6A and 7A schools, there’s no reason to hang your head.”

Holtville is currently ranked No. 3 in Class 4A and is hoping to make a return to Lagoon Park for the state tournament in May. The Bulldogs have been in the final eight only once in their program’s history but Otwell is confident this team can make some noise in the postseason.

“As long as we have some really good pitching and really good defense, the bats will show up,” Otwell said. “We’re too solid all the way through the lineup. I’m just looking for that consistency.”