The two Calhoun County teams, both called Wildcats, won a combined 71 games and were ranked in the top 10 in Class 3A all season. White Plains was ranked No. 1 or 2 from the start.
They played 10 times, including White Plains’ victories in the Area 9 and North Central Regional finals.
Both teams finished among 3A’s final four, and Saks delivered the parting shot toward next season, eliminating White Plains 5-4 on Saturday.
Can anyone say, it’s on?
“It shows that our area is best in the state,” Saks coach Mike Tucker said. “Two of our five teams in a five-team area made it to the final four in the state.”
And the good news? We can expect at least one more year of it like this.
Saks is a perennial contender. The program Randy Law built has made the state tournament three consecutive years, two coming in Class 4A.
This season, the Wildcats (28-27-1) made it farther than ever in the fast-pitch era, coming one win short of the final round. Star pitcher Taylor West is just a sophomore.
White Plains, which finished 43-9 and went 2-2 in its first state-tourney berth, loses just one senior. Among the returning crew are Jordan Coleman, who hit 24 home runs, and eighth-grade pitcher Anna Snider.
The Wildcats’ starting lineup for their two state-tourney games Saturday featured six players who were sophomores or younger.
White Plains and Saks will be paired in the same area for at least one more season. The next realignment will occur after the 2011-12 school year.
“It stings a little bit,” White Plains coach Rachel Ford said after her team lost to Saks on Saturday, “but it shows how tough our area is.
“Everybody else here doesn’t have to play the same team 10 times. It’s tough to have to play the same team that many times, and I knew they would come out on fire.”
That’s because White Plains won eight out of nine previous meetings. Saks’ lone victory over White Plains before Saturday came during the double-elimination area tourney, but White Plains beat Saks twice in the final round.
As for the other games, they played their normal three in regular-season area play. They also played in the Lady Wildcat Classic, twice in the regional and once at state.
If such frequency between the two schools seems like a recent development, it is. White Plains moved up from 2A in 2008, and Saks dropped down from 4A after the 2010 season.
That’s how they wound up in the same area.
While Saks has long been strong in softball, White Plains is arriving. A population surge in the area and the hiring of Ford six years ago put the Wildcats on a path toward competitiveness.
They hosted the area tournament for the first time in 2010 and did again this year. They made their first regional appearance in 2010 and won it this year, earning their first state tourney berth.
That’s how the rivalry gained strength and carried deep into the postseason.
“It’s become a rivalry overnight,” Tucker said. “… We‘ve played them in volleyball, softball and basketball over the years, but not as area teams.
“We’ve had the upper hand on them, until this year in softball. This right here, because both teams were two of the best in the state in that sport, it‘s just huge.”
It’s a friendly rivalry. Tucker and White Plains assistant Chris White worked together at Westbrook Christian, and some players on both teams play travel ball together.
West and Snider are sisters in arms, sharing a bond between pitchers.
“When we go play in a tournament they’re in,” Tucker said, “you always see those two walking together and talking.
“I’m sure both teams want to beat the other as much as anyone they play all year, but I think it’s a real healthy rivalry. I have a lot of respect for Rachel.”
Sadly, the rivalry might lose steam. White Plains’ enrollment keeps trending upward, and a move up to 4A would mean the Wildcats would no longer play in the same area as Saks.
They would play a lot less.
But they have at least one more school year of frequent Wildcat fights. Both sides consider it a good thing.
“It makes us both better in the long run,” Ford said. “We have to play each other so many times, it’s amazing.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.