Piedmont softball coach Rachel Smith may have gotten caught up in a tide of rising expectations in her first year as head coach. Not the expectations of others, mind you, but her own.
Sweeping Saks and Weaver and finishing second to White Plains, Class 3A’s No. 1 team, during regular-season play and in the 3A, Area 8 tournament would have been perfectly acceptable accomplishments when practice started. Then Smith decided that while making it to the South Central regional tournament in Troy was good, advancing to the state tournament in Montgomery would be even better.
So, when a pair of one-run losses eliminated the Bulldogs at the regional level, Smith and her players were disappointed. The good news is that all but one member of this year’s squad can return for the 2015 season. Outfielder Mallory Roberts was Piedmont’s lone senior.
Smith said that opponents viewed Roberts as a difficult out – a player who could hit fast balls, changeups and curves. She struck out just seven times over the season on her way to a .346 batting average.
“She was just known as being a tough out to get,” Smith said. “She was also a great leader. It will be tough to replace her leadership.”
Whatever life lessons Roberts gleaned from softball this season she’ll apply to her volleyball career at Faulkner University in the fall. For everyone else, next year will continue at Piedmont and Smith hopes she’ll see an increased level of maturity.
“I guess the most important thing would be for them to know that they are able to compete at that level, that their hard work that they put in allowed us to compete at that level. … We need to be able to put people away when we have the opportunities, regardless of the level of competition. I think one of the mistakes that young teams make is that they play to the level of competition instead of their peak level,” Smith said. “That’s something we have to work on, being able to play our game regardless of the level of competition.”
The Bulldogs opened regional action Friday against Trinity Presbyterian of Montgomery and fell 2-1. The Wildcats got a run in the bottom of the first inning. Piedmont knotted the score a 1-1 with a run in the fifth. Rachel Baggett reached on a fielder’s choice then consecutive two-out singles by Torre Roberts and Madison Pike moved Baggett into scoring position and got her home. Trinity scored the winning run with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Piedmont got six singles but no walks against Trinity pitching.
“We swung at pitches early in counts that were probably not the ideal pitches to swing at. We didn’t allow any of our counts to go deep. You attribute that to anxiety and wanting to hit the ball so badly that we were going to swing at the first or second pitch,” Smith said. “We handicapped ourselves in that game because of that. … Later in the game, we became patient but we were not the home team and they scratched out a run there at the end.”
Torre Roberts had two hits. Pike, Kayleigh Williams, Kendall Pressley and Hannah Hulsizer each had one single. Williams pitched the entire game and allowed just one earned run while recording three strikeouts.
In the elimination bracket, Piedmont defeated Montevallo 7-3 in a game that ended around midnight. The Bulldogs never trailed. They scored three runs in the top of the third inning, two in the fifth and two more in the sixth. Montevallo got one in the bottom of the third and two in the seventh.
Williams went the distance on a four-hitter with four walks and four strikeouts. Montevallo did not have an earned run. Williams helped herself at the plate with a double and a triple, Piedmont’s lone extra-base hits, in four at-bats. Mallory Roberts and Torre Roberts each had a pair of singles. Baggett, Pike, Pressley and Hayden Tyree each had one hit. Williams and Torre Roberts each scored twice. Williams had two RBIs. Pressley, Mallory Roberts and Tyree drove in one run apiece.
“I think the girls were just determined to get some runs that night,” Smith said. “We played a pretty good defensive game against them.”
Saturday afternoon, Susan Moore eliminated Piedmont 7-6. Piedmont took an early lead, fell behind and recaptured the lead before losing with two down in the seventh inning. Batting as the visitors for the third time, Piedmont opened the scoring in the top of the first when Williams’ sacrifice fly to center brought Torre Roberts home. With Pressley batting, Pike stole second base then came around when Pressley reached on an error.
Susan Moore scored four runs off Pressley in the bottom of the fourth, two earned and two unearned, for a 4-2 lead. The Bulldogs battled back with three runs in the fifth. With one away, Kaitlyn Ridley and Torre Roberts each beat out bunt singles. Ridley was out trying to reach third but Pike tripled to center to score Roberts. On a 1-2 count, Williams singled to left and Pike’s run made it 4-4. After Pressley singled to put runners on first and second, Mallory Roberts doubled and Williams scored to make it 5-4.
Piedmont added an insurance run in the top of the seventh. Torre Roberts beat out an infield single to open the inning. She promptly stole second, moved to third on a ground ball out and scored when Williams singled.
Pressley got the first out of the fifth inning before Williams came on in relief. In the seventh, Susan Moore had runners on first and second with two away when the No. 3 hitter doubled home one run and the cleanup hitter singled to drive in two runs and end the game. Williams, Torre Roberts and Mallory Roberts each had two hits. Williams finished with three RBIs. Pike and Mallory Roberts added one RBI apiece. Torre Roberts scored three times and Pike came home twice.