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Holtville pitcher Brooke Cooper (2) winds up to pitch versus Dale County at Lagoon Park in Montgomery, Ala., Friday May 17, 2019

The Holtville softball team was no stranger to injuries to its pitching staff throughout the regular season but it all stacked up at the worst time during the playoffs. The Bulldogs saw their top three pitchers struggle with injuries entering last week’s Class 4A state tournament, including KK Dismukes who could not get through an inning at Lagoon Park before being pulled from the circle.

“I think the injury bug was a big factor for us in this tournament,” Holtville coach Daryl Otwell said. “I would have loved to see it play out again with everyone at 100 percent but I’m sure a lot of people have said that before.”

Dismukes began to have some pain during play at the regional in Oxford but she pushed through to pitch every inning for Holtville to help qualify the Bulldogs for the state tournament. Despite the injury, the team continued to plan for Dismukes to be the lead pitcher during its trip to Lagoon Park.

“We tried to treat it the best we could,” Otwell said. “Her arm was bothering her all week. Some days it was OK and some days it was hurting so bad she couldn’t even throw. That really deflated the team when we got here today and she couldn’t go.”

It did not take long for Otwell and the Bulldogs to realize that could not happen as Dismukes was chased in the first inning of Holtville’s loss to North Jackson. The Bulldogs turned to Brooke Cooper, who was dealing with a strained groin, and Alexus Hindman, who had not pitched since early April, to finish out the tournament in the circle.

“For the second half of the season, we were a little beat up,” Otwell said. “Hindman couldn’t play for the majority of the second half and Cooper missed the last few weeks of the regular season. When you miss your Nos. 2 and 3 pitchers, it forced KK to pitch a lot more innings than we would have liked. I think that contributed to the postseason.”

Cooper entered the season as the team’s No. 2 pitcher but started only six times and appeared in the circle in 15 games during the year. Hindman came on as a reliable option for the Bulldogs, recording a sub-1.00 ERA in her first 13 appearances.

However, Hindman’s season took a turn after an elbow injury forced her out of the pitching staff in April. She is scheduled to have Tommy John Surgery during the summer but Hindman made herself available if needed after Dismukes could not go any more.

“She’s going to have surgery this summer but she saw how beat up we were and wanted to step up,” Otwell said. “I think it spoke very highly of her character and work ethic to say ‘I’ll pitch even though it hurts.’ For her to step up and do that for her teammates, you can’t say enough about what that says about her.”

Hindman and Cooper combined to allow just two earned runs in the elimination game against Dale County but it was not enough. 

There were still clear signs the team was struggling to respond mentally but the injury to Dismukes and it affect play at the plate and in the field.

“As a coach, you want to win it all but we just got bit by the injury bug at the worst time possible,” Otwell said. “If you’re not at 100 percent and at your best, it’s very tough to win at this level.” 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.