MONTGOMERY — Brian Hess had no worry about putting an eighth-grade pitcher in the circle, with bases loaded, one out and Alexandria’s two-run lead teetering in a state tournament elimination game.
That eighth-grader is Emmah Rolfe, after all. After freely subbing his two tiring pitchers in the Valley Cubs’ third game Wednesday, Hess could tell Rolfe wanted back in the game.
“She did not like the way she left in the second or third inning,” Hess said. “We were happy to get her back out there.”
Alexandria pitchers Emmah Rolfe and Maggie Phillips warm up for state opener against Springville. pic.twitter.com/qaKikOY8L5— Joe Medley (@jmedley_star) May 16, 2018
Madison Lewis’ RBI single to brought Ardmore within a run, but Rolfe struck out cleanup hitter Karla Hice and got L.B. Smith to pop out to preserve Alexandria’s 7-6 victory.
The kept the Valley Cubs (42-10) alive in the elimination bracket and set up a rematch with Springville (44-8-1) today at 10:45 a.m. Springville put Alexandria in the elimination bracket 3-0 Wednesday, and Alexandria rebounded for a 6-4 victory over Faith Academy and survived against Ardmore.
The Valley Cubs would have to win four times today to win their third state title under Hess and first since 2014. Then again, this is a team that went 5-1 in one day in Gulf Shores, reaching the semifinals of a spring-break tournament.
“Now, it’s survival,” Hess said. “You’re in the losers’ bracket, you’re just trying to survive.”
Alexandria gets its state medals ahead of opener against Springville, sporting the new pinstripe uniforms. pic.twitter.com/SgwTkBxEIg— Joe Medley (@jmedley_star) May 16, 2018
Alexandria got it done Wednesday.
Maggie Phillips’ two-run home run after Faith rallied from a 4-0 hole to tie the game got the Valley Cubs to the Ardmore game.
Ardmore jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third, with runs scoring on Smith’s RBI single, Bo Riley’s fielder's choice and Sydney Hall's ground-rule double. Those runs broke 10-inning scoreless streak for the Tigers.
Alexandria answered in the bottom of the third. Ashley Phillips’ double behind an Alyssa Carrizales double got the first run in, and Millie Burt tied the game with a two-run double.
The Valley Cubs went up 7-3 with four runs in the fifth, coming on two-run singles from Rolfe and Leighton Sparks.
That lead stood into the top of the seventh, when two errors helped Ardmore load the bases then close within 7-5. After Maggie Phillips walked Olivia Stafford to reload the bases with one out, Hess summoned Rolfe back to the circle.
Hess had planned to platoon his two pitchers every nine batters. Maggie Phillips started but gave way to Rolfe to start the third inning. Maggie Phillips retook the circle in the fourth, after Rolfe struck out Mackenzie McCormack.
Phillips took it into the seventh, when Rolfe came in and put the fire out.
“I was saying, ‘Spin the ball. Spin the ball,’” she said. “I haven’t been spinning that well today, and I knew I had to trust my defense.”
The strikeout of Hice for the second out put Rolfe in command and pressure on Smith. Rolfe got Hice looking on a curve.
“It was a little high, and I didn’t think he was going to call it, but he called it,” she said.
It was a clutch moment for Rolfe, knowing that each game could be her last with Alexandria. She’ll follow her father’s career move to Huntsville after this school year and play for Bob Jones.
“We all are playing for each other,” Rolfe said. “We’re not playing for ourselves. We’re playing for the name on the back. We’re playing for the name on the front.
“We’re just trying to make our hometown proud.”
Alexandria 6, Faith Academy 4: Maggie Phillips’ two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning, her eighth homer on the year, proved to be Alexandria’s biggest single at bat of the day.
“I hadn’t been hitting her very well, and I just knew that I’d probably get some inside,” she said. “I was just ready to load it up.”
Maggie Phillips also came on in relief of Rolfe with a runner on in the bottom of the sixth and pitched two scoreless innings for the save.
Faith tied the game in the fifth, when Taylor Robinson followed Lacey Fincher’s solo home run and Tempest Hebert’s single with a two-run bomb well beyond the temporary fence in center field.
The Rams (40-15) got on the board on Mattie Evans’ RBI double in the fourth.
Alexandria built its 4-0 lead on Mattie Wade’s two-run single with bases loaded in the second, Rolfe’s fielder’s choice plus an error in the third and Maggie Phillips’ RBI single in the fourth.
Springville 3, Alexandria 0: Maggie Phillips struck out 10 batters, but Makalyn Kyser’s solo home run in the second inning and Kaylee Chapman’s two-run shot in the fourth inning provided all of the runs.
Chapman’s homer came after McKenzie Brown reached on an error.
Alexandria’s best shot came in the top of the fifth. Millie Burt doubled to lead off, and Allison Bonds walked behind her. Rolfe sent a ball down the third-base line, initially scoring Burt, but umpires reversed their call to foul ball.
Rolfe then walked to load the bases with no outs, and Springville’s Abby Swaney shut down the next three batters … Sparks on an infield fly, Lanie Dreyer on a strikeout and Carrizales on a fielder’s choice to Swaney, who tossed to Kyser to force Burt at home.
Swaney pitched a 3-hitter.
Alexandria is 1-2 against the three-time defending state champions this season, winning 6-5 then losing 3-2 and 3-0.
“To me, I think we played tight this morning and loosened up as the game went on,” Hess said. “Ever since their backs were against the wall, they’ve been constantly fighting because they just don’t want it to end.”