Pell City looking for a title

Emily Butts and the Lady Panthers are 25-11 on the season.

Pell City High School softball coach Terry Isbell will have an opportunity to cross off one of his team’s goals and an item from his bucket list when the Lady Panthers play for a Class 6A, Area 12 championship today at home.

The Lady Panthers will face the winner of Clay-Chalkville vs. Pinson Valley in the championship game at 6 p.m. If Pell City loses, an if-necessary game at 8 will determine which team leaves as area champion.

“If it happens, it happens,” Isbell said. “I’ve had a great ride coaching at Moody and Pell City, and also at Ragland for two years. I had a great time there. I’ve been very blessed.”

Regardless of the area tournament outcome, Isbell’s team clinched its spot in the West Regional Tournament in Tuscaloosa with a 3-2 victory over Pinson Valley on Tuesday.

“We’ve always got to host the area tournament, but we’ve never won the area tournament,” Isbell said Wednesday night. “Tomorrow is real big for us, but it’s a good feeling to know you’ve already got a spot in the regional tournament and have a chance to be in the state tournament.”

Isbell, who coached the Lady Panthers from 1989-2012, spent the past 6 1/2 years at Moody as defensive coordinator for the Blue Devils’ football squad. He returned to Pell City as softball coach in December.

“I started back at Pell City High School right after Christmas, and I got to work with them some a couple weeks before that,” Isbell said. “This is a very young group. I say they’re young, but they’ve been playing together a while. Technically, it’s not a young group experience-wise.

“I had good assistant coaches -- John Costello; Brittany Gillison, who I coached at Pell City; my son, Andy Isbell; and Meagan Kehlenbrink. They did a good job, especially Coach Costello, of holding the group together after they made a (coaching) change in October.”

He added plenty of players on the squad have contributed to Pell City’s success.

“Our senior pitcher, Emily Butts, she has already signed with the University of Mobile,” he said. “We have Katie Henderson, who plays second base, Katlyan Dulaney, who plays shortstop for us, and Madeline Houk, our right fielder, who is leading us in hitting right now.

“Emily Dulaney, the twin sister of Katlyan, she plays center field for us. Last night, Kelsey Watson really hit the ball well for us against Pinson. Evi Edwards, a freshman, has been one of our leading hitters. We’re mostly a freshman team besides Emily, but we’ve got good leadership with the other three seniors.”

Isbell said his girls would not only like to bring home the area title that has eluded him in his career, but they’re also setting their sights higher.

“Anybody’s goal once you get to regionals is to be that first or second team to have a chance to play for a state championship,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about all along since Christmas. I guess that would be our ultimate goal is to try and win (area), get first or second at regionals and have a chance to play for a state championship.”

A recent inductee into the St. Clair County Sports Hall of Fame, Isbell said it’s been great to return to Pell City.

“Moody’s my home,” he said. “I was blessed to have an opportunity to go coach at my high school and make some great memories and friendships that I’ll treasure the rest of my life.

“Pell City, I’ve taught and coached there for 23 years, so in a sense, it was like coming back home also. I was thankful for (Principal) Dr. (Tony) Dowdy and (Superintendent) Dr. (Michael) Barber for giving me that opportunity again when they called and asked if I would be interested in coming back and coaching softball.”