The Cleburne County softball team drew eventual Class 4A state tournament runner-up Alabama Christian in its open ing game at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park and fell 3-0. In the elimination bracket, the Tigers lost to Oak Grove 6-5. The two losses Friday closed the high school play ing careers of seniors Toni Epps, Hannah Gossage and Kaity Zeiders.
“I have nothing but good things to say about them,” head softball coach Ron Ervin said of the trio. “They work hard. … Those three just got better every year.”
Ervin said that as a senior Gossage was one of Cleburne County’s best hit ters. Zeiders was “everything you want a catcher to be.” Epps learned to put the ball on the ground and used her speed to beat out hits, becoming “one of the best slappers around.”
“As a coach, you love to see that pro gression and development and those three are just great examples of develop ment over the years, getting better every single year,” Ervin noted.
Against Alabama Christian, pitch er Kiara Akles recorded 10 strikeouts. Alisa Norton, Madison Jones, Chelsea Parker, Gossage and Akles each was 1-for-3. Akles doubled for the only extra-base hit. Ervin said many of the Tigers’ hits against Alabama Christian came with two outs.
“We put the ball in play. I was real proud of the way we put it in play,” Er vin said. “ACA is real sound on defense. We popped the ball up some. Then, some were balls in the gap and a kid would come out of nowhere and grab it and make a play on it.”
Against Oak Grove, Cleburne County batted as visiting team again. The Tigers got two runs in the first when Epps sin gled and scored on Norton’s base hit. Akles’ ground ball moved Norton to third base and Norton scored on Zeiders’ ground out. Ahead 2-0, Cleburne County added three runs in the top of the second. Chelsea Parker drove in one run. Gos sage got a run home on a sacrifice fly and Epps scored on a double by Norton.
Oak Grove got two runs back in the bottom of the second to cut Cleburne County’s advantage to 5-2 and that’s the way the score stayed until the sixth.
“We just had a couple of dead in nings,” Ervin said. “In the third, fourth and fifth, we couldn’t get any runs in.”
In the home half of the sixth, Oak Grove added four runs – aided by three Cleburne County errors.
“I kind of felt like we started pressing a little bit just from the first-time-being-there jitters,” Ervin added.
Epps had three singles in four at-bats and scored twice. Norton had a double and a single and scored once. Zeiders, Amber Parker and Bailey Beam each was 1-for-3. Parker and Beam each came home once.
“I was proud of them. They did a good job. They got after it. They were just a play of two away,” Ervin said of the Tigers’ first appearance in the state tournament.