Prep Softball State Tournament Eyes on the prize: Lady Bearcats prepare for state title series | CullmanSense

Prep Softball State Tournament

Eyes on the prize: Lady Bearcats prepare for state title series

Johnny Thornton

The Lady Bearcats following their win at the North Regional last weekend

MONTGOMERY - It’s becoming routine to see Cullman High’s softball team in the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) state tournament. This is the third consecutive year the Lady Bearcats have made it to the Elite Eight under coach Stephanie Conner.

The girls will step onto the field Wednesday when Class 6A ball gets underway at Lagoon Park. The Lady Bearcats are the No. 2 qualifier from the North Regional and will meet the No. 1 qualifier out of the South, Daphne, at 9 a.m.

Conner's Lady Bearcats will also be joined in the state tournament by Helena (South-Central 2 qualifier), Gardendale (North-Central 1 qualifier), Northview (South 2 qualifier), Hazel Green (North 1 qualifier), Walker (North-Central 2 qualifier) and Chelsea (South-Central 1 qualifier).

Cullman is on a roll with a 7-1 record for May, winning the 6A, Area 14 tournament on campus and compiling four victories in five assignments in last weekend’s North Regional in Huntsville. The Lady 'Cats are 30-19-1 overall and 14-4-1 since the weekend of April 7 when they played in the Bob Jones Invitational.

The Lady Bearcats had to overcome the loss of senior pitcher Olivia Schwaiger when she sustained a concussion on a thrown ball in a game May 11 against Athens. Schwaiger was taken to Huntsville Hospital and released on May 12. The right-hander will not play in the state tournament.

A senior, experienced ball club stepped up when needed. Sierra Easterwood moved from shortstop to pitcher last Friday and handcuffed No. 2 ranked Oxford and Fort Payne 3-0 and 5-0, then showed toughness in the 10-7 win over Athens that earned the Lady Bearcats a ticket back to Montgomery.

Easterwood was 4-for-4 in the lead-off position, hitting a two-run homer in the second inning vs. Athens and scoring three times. She had plenty of offensive support with Bailey Swann, second in the lineup, going 3-for-4 with a home run and two runs driven in.

With McKensi Burks, Hannah Morton and Tiffani Schwaiger in the middle of the batting order, Cullman has power and the ability to produce in critical times. Burks, Morton and Schwaiger came through with run-scoring hits in the five-run sixth inning that broke a 5-5 tie with Athens.

The defense changed with the injury to Olivia Schwaiger. Seventh-grader Faith Guest moved from second to short while sophomore Keslynn Grimmett took Guest's spot at second base. Both youngsters had clutch hits against Athens from the bottom of the batting order.

Add potential big-time plays by Meredith McPherson at the plate and Kennedy Wren as a hitter and center fielder, and Cullman has proven that experience and determination can overcome adversity. McPherson homered in the Athens win while Wren stood out with several big catches from center against Athens and in the prior game against Fort Payne.

This week’s state tournament will have a second-round bracket at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, with elimination bracket play at 6 p.m.

The tournament will continue through Thursday with championship play to take place in the late afternoon.

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