Lady Aggies keep dream alive

Sylacauga head coach Jay Brooks talks to his team during a game against Marbury on Friday.

OXFORD -- Sylacauga High School’s softball team defeated Demopolis 6-4 to advance in the consolation bracket of the Class 5A East Central Regional Tournament at Choccolocco Park on Friday night.

The Lady Aggies built a 6-0 lead through the first three innings, then fended off a rally by the Lady Tigers in the seventh to seal the victory.

“Our girls, they have no quit in them,” Sylacauga head coach Jay Brooks said. “It’s who they are. It’s grittiest team I’ve ever coached, and they don’t quit until that last out is made. And neither does that team (Demopolis).”

Sylacauga jumped ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the first with RBI singles from McKenzie Merkel and Reagan Wills.

Two innings later, the Lady Aggies boosted their lead with a trio of RBI singles from Merkel, Lani Varner and Kaleigh Smith. Sylacauga added its fourth run of the frame on a sacrifice fly by Madison Martin to score Neeley Murphree.

Demopolis scored its first run in the top of the fourth on a groundout by Alexzundria Abrams that brought home Lane Burbage.

The Lady Tigers sandwiched an RBI triple by Abrams with RBI singles by Burbage and Abby Cameron in the top of the seventh.

Sylacauga senior Maddie Ingram closed out the top of the sixth in dramatic fashion. The center fielder chased down a fly ball into the right-center gap and made a diving catch as her body slid across the slightly wet grass.

“That’s not the first one of those she’s made this year,” Brooks said of Ingram’s clutch defensive play. “That’s what that kid does, and the bigger the stage, the bigger the game, the bigger the play that kid makes.

“She’s made that play probably six or seven times this year, and if that opportunity presents itself tomorrow, she’s going to make it again. That’s who she is.”

Sylacauga fell to Marbury 8-0 in the opening round of the tournament. The Lady Aggies mustered just one hit against Lady Bulldogs junior pitcher Lillian Graham, who fanned 16 batters in a complete game.

Varner, who pitched the first three innings against Marbury, went the distance against Demopolis and held the Lady Tigers to two hits and a run through the first six frames.

“That was strategy,” Brooks said. “We saw that we had run up on a good Marbury team and we didn’t look like we were going to be able to do anything with their pitching.

“Lani’s been good for us all year, so we decided to pull her after three so that she would be fresh with anticipation of her going a full game tonight. With a night’s rest, she’ll be able to go a full game tomorrow morning.”

Sylacauga will face Shelby County today at 9 a.m. as the Lady Aggies prepare for a long journey that will require three consecutive victories in the consolation bracket to qualify for the state tournament in Montgomery next week.

“We talk about one more pitch,” Brooks said. “We have an opportunity to come back.

“There are less than 32 teams in 5A softball that are still playing. We’re one of them, and that’s an opportunity. Every day that we get to come to the ballpark from here on out, that’s an opportunity, and we’re going to do everything in our power to take advantage of it.”