Taylor West, the 6-foot-1 junior struck out Pisgah’s Lillie McCrary for the third and final out in a 3-0 win to oust the defending state champion second-ranked Lady Eagles and bring home the school’s first ever state title in the sport.
West finished with nine strikeouts against Pisgah. She was nearly flawless throughout the Lady Wildcats’ four-game run through the bracket, striking out 58 in 32 innings of work over four games at Lagoon Park.
“I really didn’t. It wasn’t in my mind,” West said, when asked if she aware she had a perfect game going on. “I was just worried about winning the blue trophy for my team.”
The Lady Wildcats, ranked No. 7 in the final Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 3A state poll, got it done with defense all-tournament long. They scored five runs Thursday, winning 2-1 and 3-2 against Trinity and Pisgah respectively to advance Friday’s action unscathed.
They manufactured four in 18 innings Saturday, but with the way West was winning on the mound it didn’t matter much.
“She just had total control and they made every play,” Pisgah coach Billy Duncan said. “We had four balls in the outfield that I thought were legitimate hits and they’re coming out of nowhere and just making plays.”
The game was played to a scoreless tie through the first three innings as West and Pisgah starter Megan Smith went tit-for-tat.
Saks produced all of its offense in the top of the fourth.
Senior Rebecca Bowen reached on an error to start the inning. Then, Daisy Cornejo got to first on a fielder’s choice and stole second to get into scoring position. Freshman shortstop Tiffany Springer, the next batter up, singled in Cornejo to put the Wildcats on the board.
Maggie Sheheane came up with the biggest hit of the game, stroking a two-out standup double to bring in a pair of runs and make the score 3-0.
“I was thinking in my head, ‘See it. Sit on a change. Go with the outside and turn on the inside’,” she said, Sheheane said, describing her approach at the plate. “I just saw the pitch. It was down the middle and I just put that bat on that ball.”
The flurry of runs forced Duncan to pull Smith for left-hander Alyssa Clayton.
The players behind West were just as masterful in the field as she was on the mound.
Haley Cobb made a lunging grab in left field to negate what surely looked like a hit as it came off Clayton’s bat in the bottom of the fourth. Pisgah’s Quincey Nance, Smith and Myriah Ball all grounded out in the fifth and West struck out the side in the sixth.
In the top of the seventh, Pisgah’s last chance to extend the game, West got Ella Denes to pop up for the first out. Clayton hit a blooper toward shallow left field that looked as if it might break up West’s perfect game before a dashing springer came in to snatch it out the afternoon sky.
“I wasn’t thinking about the perfect game,” Springer said. “I was completely blank-minded whenever this game was going on. It feels really good to win a state championship being a ninth-grader, knowing I have three more years to go.”
Cobb finished 2-for-3 and Cornejo was 1-for-3, as was West, in the victory.
“She gave up two hits in 18 innings today against the second and third place teams in the state today,” Saks coach Mike Tucker said. “That’s just unheard of.”
The state title puts Saks atop the pecking order in Class 3A softball circles after losing all seven times it faced rival top-ranked White Plains. Saks finished second to White Plains in the Calhoun County, Area 9 and North Central regional titles.
“It feels great because I feel like we proved everybody wrong who thought we couldn’t do it,” West said.
Saks centerfielder Kabrina Snell, along with West, Bowen and Cobb were named to the all-tournament team.
Cornejo, who doubled to start the 11th against Geneva, scored the game-winning run in the Lady Wildcats’ victory against The Panthers, reaching home from third on a passed ball.
Kelly Kilgore, Snell, Cobb, Cornejo, Springer and Prater all had hits against Geneva.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.