MONTGOMERY — Brian Hess posts motivational messages for Alexandria’s softball team and its followers on Facebook. He ends posts with a hashtag … #Limitless.
The Valley Cubs’ prospects seemed limitless when Millie Burt’s game-winning triple beat three-time defending 5A champion Springville early in the regular season, helping them earn a No. 1 ranking in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll.
Limitlessness seemed revived Thursday, when Burt delivered another seventh-inning hit against Springville to tie their state-tournament elimination game and force the bottom half of the inning.
As it has all too often since Alexandria moved up to 5A in 2015, Springville proved the limit. A key error by an eighth-grader helped to set up Dakota Dorsett’s game-winning single in the bottom of the seventh, and the Tigers eliminated the Valley Cubs 5-4.
“It’s tough,” said Hess, whose team went 2-2 in Montgomery, both losses coming to Springville, and finished 42-11. “I’m proud of the way they fought, better than they’ve ever fought before, and we never question that.
“I hated it that we had to make a mistake at the end and put them in a situation.”
The key sequence came with one out in the bottom of the seventh and the game tied 4-4. McKenzie Brown, who hit a solo home run and RBI double, walked ahead of Kaylee Chapman’s roller down the third-base line.
Alexandria third baseman Kodie Williams charged, but the ball rolled under her glove. Runners reached second and third bases for Dorsett, who singled to right field to end the game.
“An eighth-grader done it, and she’ll grow from it,” Hess said. “She’ll be better for it.”
Alexandria’s three-run, seventh-inning rally extended the game a half-inning.
After going four innings without a base runner against Springville pitcher Abby Swaney, the Valley Cubs hit her. Nine-hole hitter Alyssa Carrizales reached on an infield single with one out, followed by singles from Mattie Wade and Ashley Phillips to load the bases.
Maggie Phillips, who homered eight times this season, fought Swaney for an epic at-bat with several foul balls on inside pitches before walking to plate one run.
Swaney struck out Allison Bonds, but the left-handed Burt delivered a two-run, two-out single to tie the game.
Burt’s three-run triple beat Springville 6-5 in March, a triumphant moment after Springville eliminated the Valley Cubs from the 2015 North Central Regional and 2016 state tournament. Burt also drove in Alexandria’s first run Thursday, on an RBI single in the third inning.
“She’s made adjustments, and she’s sick of losing to them,” Hess said.
Burt acknowledged that being a left-handed batter gives her a better look at the right-handed Swaney’s pitches, but her successes against the star pitcher owe more to the moment.
“I was playing for my team, just trying to get us there and put us in position to keep the game going,” she said. “I fought for everyone else.”
The rally was the latest for Alexandria, which fought back from a 7-2 deficit to beat Russellville 9-8 and clinch a state berth at last week’s North Regional. The Valley Cubs also rebounded from a 3-0 loss to Springville in the state opener to beat Faith Academy and Ardmore, the team that put them out of last year’s North Regional and put them in the elimination bracket there this year.
Alexandria rallied from a 3-0 deficit and fought off a late rally to beat Ardmore 7-6 on Wednesday.
The Valley Cubs went 1-3 against Springville this season, with three one-run games.
“We’re kind of sad to see it end,” Hess said. “It’s been a fun year.”
The loss to Springville on Thursday marked the final high school game for three Alexandria seniors … Bonds, Carrizales and Leighton Sparks.
Sparks battled back problems that cost her most of her sophomore year. She played with it not fully healed as a junior and into her senior year but delivered two key hits and a big defensive play in two regional victories over Russellville.
Carrizales took a foul ball to the head earlier this season, suffering only a concussion thanks to dugout netting, and strained her left shoulder in an outfield collision at regionals. Her leadoff double helped to set up Alexandria’s three-run third inning against Ardmore on Wednesday.
Bonds had several key hits over her career and a two-homer game in the area tournament.
Alexandria will also lose eighth-grade pitcher/first baseman Emmah Rolfe, an Auburn commit set to follow her father’s career move to Huntsville and play for Bob Jones.
“A lot of times, as an eighth-grader, she’s had to be the heart and soul of this team,” Hess said.
Fighting back tears, Rolfe said she will miss her teammates.
“Looking at them one last time and knowing this is the last time I get to put on this jersey,” she said, “my emotions are running wild right now.”