In the first seven games, Class 3A softball power Saks lost five times. The fifth loss in that stretch came March 8 in the Lincoln tournament, and as the team sat in the outfield grass absorbing the defeat, Michelle Lively offered her players a challenge.
“It felt like they were waiting on someone else to do the job and I told them they can’t let this season go down the tube,” said Lively, the Saks head coach.
She said the team needed a pivotal change needed to happen, and with the players still gathered around, she added the change could come “right now.”
“We ended up winning that tournament and from then on they bought into it,” she said. “They pushed each other and pushed themselves.”
Saks went on to win the Calhoun County tournament, finish second in the 3A, Area 8 tournament and the 3A South Central Regional. Then the Lady Wildcats completed the season in the state tournament. After winning the title a year ago, a rebuilding squad managed a fourth-place finish this season. For all of those accomplishments, Lively is The Anniston Star’s Calhoun County 3A softball coach of the year.
One of the disappointments of the season was not winning the Area 8 tournament, in which Saks fell to rival White Plains, which took the crown for the fifth straight year.
“It was probably the fight that we had during the area tournament when we all wanted to win and beat White Plains. That pushed us even further,” Saks pitcher Taylor West said. “During the county tournament when we won, it gave everyone confidence that we could win, but I felt like in area it picked up more because we knew it wasn’t over and we had to win to keep going on.”
Second place in area advanced Saks to the South Central Regional, where a second-place finish to White Plains qualified the Lady Wildcats for the state tournament.
That’s where Saks finally overcame White Plains. After losing the five previous meetings, the Lady Wildcats defeated White Plains in an elimination game.
“I just think at that moment it just came down to, We’ve been there,’” Lively said. “We know how to act and we know how it feels. It’s not new to us and it is part of Saks softball. This group of girls handled pressure really well. They want to be under pressure and the come-from-behind
The state tournament berth was Saks’ fifth straight. Even with a young team returning next year, experience is one thing Saks will have in 2014.
“They have a fire about them that I haven’t seen at Saks in a long time,” Lively said. “It’s going to be really hard to replace Taylor (West), Kelly
(Kilgore) and Kendra (Prater), but I have all the confidence in the world that I have some girls that are on fire for softball. I’m extremely excited about the future at Saks.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star