E.A. Sports Today

Tough schedule prepares Oxford

Lady Yellow Jackets have played 44 games against teams either ranked or still playing in run up to first finals trip

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Last year in early May Oxford softball coach Wendy McKibbin stood behind right field and consoled her young team after losing to Albertville and talked about her graduating seniors and how much they meant to her.

“These kids were so special to the program and it is going to be different without them at practice,” she said. “It has been a great year for us and I think we will have a good group coming back.”

That group coming back has faced a very brutal schedule and through it all have put the Oxford softball program on the map in 6A, becoming the first Oxford team to make it to Montgomery for the state finals with a 34-16-1 record.

The Lady Yellow Jackets have battled through injuries, 10 one-run losses to some of the best teams in the state as part of 44 games against teams that have been ranked or are still playing in their respective state finals. The Lady Jackets went 29-14-1 against those strong teams and it toughened them up as the season wore on.

The bats were cold early in the season as they played the No. 1 teams in 4A, 5A, 6A and 7A. However, the sophomore pitching tandem of Jo Jo Skinner and Rylee Waldrep were proving to be very effective and improving each time out, giving the team a chance in most every game. By season’s end each could go out and dominate an opponent as the bats were beginning to come around.

Left-handed shortstop Taylor Ellison, who transferred in from Alexandria’s state championship team of a year ago, was providing leadership on how to come together as a team and win a state championship. Kendra Larkin, Amber Dempsey and Makenzie Trantham were playing great defense, coming up with timely hits and keeping the infield tight.

Outfielders Grace Mitchell, Haley Lyner and Morgan Whaley were doing likewise in the outfield. Seventh-grader Sara Howell worked her way into the starting lineup and has gotten better each week.

Signs of toughness began to develop in the Lady Raider Classic as they battled from behind to win three games in taking the tournament. “They battled their tails off and never quit,” McKibbin said. “I am so proud of them.”

More signs came in the county tournament with a classic extra inning win over Alexandria and a 1-0 win over White Plains.

The Jackets enter this week’s state 6A tournament with a noon Friday game against Wetumpka (38-7-1) and it looks like any one of the eight teams has a shot at winning it. Their second game — win or lose — would be at 7 p.m. against either Saraland or Cullman.

Here’s a look at the other teams in the field:

CHELSEA (19-14): The Hornets were state champions in 2012, so they know how to play in the post season. However, they are 1-3 against Oxford including being swept by the Jackets in the area finals. The Hornets bounced back at the regionals going undefeated.

The Area 10 runners-up have also played Southside, losing 2-1. Oxford lost to Southside 6-5 early in the season when the Panthers were ranked No. 1 in the state. Chelsea has some impressive wins, including a 4-3 over highly-ranked 7A power Spain Park.

SOUTHSIDE (38-5): The Panthers have spent most of the year ranked No. 1 and strangely enough have lost three games to Fort Payne down the stretch. Their other loss came to top-ranked 5A Hayden 1-0. Oxford lost to Hayden 1-0 and lost to Southside 6-5. The Area 13 runners-up were not scored on in their regional playoffs.

HILLCREST-TUSCALOOSA (31-10): The third-ranked Patriots have a loss to Southside 3-1, beaten Daphne 9-2, lost to Wetumpka 8-7 and lost to No. 1 4A Curry 2-1 (a team Oxford lost to 2-1). The Area 6 champs have won seven of their last eight games.

DAPHNE (34-9-1): The No. 4 Trojans started the season 20-2 and have played mostly Mobile teams. They have lost to Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and lost to Saraland 8-4 and 9-7. The Area 2 winners beat Oak Mountain (7-5), a team that Oxford beat 1-0.

SARALAND (37-7): The sixth-ranked Spartans have probably played the weakest schedule of all the 6A teams in Montgomery as they have hardly played outside the Mobile area at all. The Area 1 champs were 2-1 in an Auburn tournament early in the season; they lost to Valley 3-1. They do hold two victories over Daphne.

WETUMPKA (38-7-1): The No. 7 Indians have been to Oxford and played in the White Plains Lady Classic where they were defeated by White Plains 5-1 and nipped Piedmont 2-1. The Area 5 winners have lost 6-4 to Oak Mountain and beat Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 8-7.

CULLMAN (26-13), ranked eighth, is the other team in the field. The Bearcats are the Area 15 runners-up.

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