Final score: Sulligent 6, Lineville 4.
The official language says Lineville was “eliminated” from the North Central Regional, but the last coaches and players to wear Lineville red and black in AHSAA competition say there’s no eliminating history.
And for those who know and love the school, there’s no eliminating everything for which it stood.
“This was our goal, to get here,” now-former Lineville coach John Harkness said. “We wanted to make it to Birmingham. Ten years I’ve been doing this, and we never have (in fast-pitch).”
Yes, Lineville’s last was a first.
And now begins an era of firsts as Lineville and former, intra-county archrival Clay County merge into Clay-Central.
In fact, even as Aggies and Panthers were giving their last as Aggies and Panthers in the North Central and South Central softball regionals Friday and early Saturday, some were becoming Volunteers. Clay-Central began spring football practice this past week.
Under the direction of newly minted head coach Steve Giddens — the board approved his hiring Thursday night — the Vols are working toward Friday’s first Blue-Red intrasquad game.
It seems only appropriate that a Clay County grad who made his career to this point as Lineville’s head coach and principal would be the guy tipping the spear in the merger in sports.
The merger is already happening in spirit, as well. It’s showing in the merger of blue and red on the same garments and not opposing jerseys.
“People in both schools are already wearing those new colors,” said Piedmont’s John Wilson, a volunteer coach under Harkness.
Wilson used to coach Lineville softball. He led the Aggies to a third-place state finish in the program’s slow-pitch days then came back, at Harkness’ request, as a volunteer assistant.
Wilson worked Lineville’s three games over a span of nearly nine hours Friday and early Saturday despite battling pneumonia. Minutes after he helped to coach Lineville High’s final athletic competition, he choked back tears.
“We’re blessed to be given this opportunity, and the girls earned that,” he said.
Then he quoted former Lineville football coach Richard “Red” Littleton.
“Red Littleton told me when I first came, ‘Once you’re an Aggie, you’re always an Aggie,’” said Wilson, who first came to Lineville in 1987. “It’s just a special place.”
The last team to compete for Lineville didn’t go down without a special moment. While the Aggies went 1-2 in the North Central Regional, they also posted the school’s final sports victory — 14-0 over Fultondale.
Kendra Gibbons went 2-for-4 with a double against Fultondale. Shatina Smith and Chelsea Benitzes each went 2-for-4.
After the Sulligent game, Harkness gathered his team near the first-base line for one last, Lineville huddle. He wished the seniors well and encouraged those who will try out at Clay-Central.
“I hate it that this is the last time we’re going to wear these uniforms,” said Harkness, who has coached softball, football and basketball at Lineville for 10 years, will be an assistant football coach at Clay-Central and said he’s “waffling” on coaching softball. “I love red and black, and now I’m going to have to wear red, white and blue.”
The team and coaches broke their huddle and gathered for a team picture, as parents took turns with cameras.
“It’s sad,” senior Katelyn Harkness said. “We have a lot of passion for it, and it’s making me tear up just thinking about that we’re finished with our school, but at least we’re going to go on to better things next year.
“I know they will be really good next year. I’ll support them all the way. I’ll be at all the games.”
Among players likely to wear red and blue next year is Smith, a pitcher/infielder and eighth-grader.
“It’ll be different, not knowing some of the people and not knowing what they’re like,” she said, “but maybe we could work together.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star. Assistant managing editor Bran Strickland contributed to this report.