E.A. Sports Today

Well done

Piedmont wins three games on final day to complete historic Calhoun County softball title, forcing Smith to keep her promise of steak dinner

Piedmont’s softball team poses for pictures after winning the Calhoun County tournament Thursday on Jacksonville State’s University Field. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Rachel Smith made a promise after her Piedmont team fell into the Calhoun County softball tournaments elimination bracket Wednesday.

After the Bulldogs emerged to win their program’s first-ever county title in the fast-pitch era Thursday, the veteran coach promised to keep her promise … sometime, somehow.

Armoni Perry can already taste that steak dinner.

“As a team, we love going out to eat together,” the senior first baseman said. “It’s kind of like team bonding for us.”

Top seed Piedmont has something new over which to bond after coming from behind to beat Alexandria 8-7 in Thursday’s elimination-bracket final then holding off a comeback to complete a sweep of No. 4 White Plains, 8-3 and 8-7, on Jacksonville State’s University Field.

The Bulldogs won their final five games of the tournament after losing to White Plains 7-0 on Wednesday at Woodland Park.

That’s when Smith dug into her bag of coaching motivational ploys and pulled out a steak, figuratively speaking.

“Coach Smith was like, if we win the county, we’ll have a steak dinner,” Perry said.

Piedmont’s county championship completes a week of firsts and milestones. Coaches voted the Class 3A Bulldogs as the county’s top seed for the first time ever, and Smith got her 200th career victory when they beat Oxford 8-3 to survive Wednesday night.

Players presented her a commemorative ball after the Oxford game.

Piedmont came into the tournament 10-2 against county competition this season and came out the other side at 16-3 against their county rival.

“It means that our program is coming and doing the things that we want to do,” Smith said. “We invested in our youth in the beginning. These are some of those first kids that we were investing in when they were in the third, fourth and fifth grade, and they were in the elementary camps and fall leagues.

“This is the rewards of that, of getting them exposed to the game at an early age and buying into our program and our philosophy. We’re reaping the rewards of that, and it means the world to me.”

If anything summed up Piedmont’s run through the tournament, it’s the comeback they made against Alexandria on Thursday, followed by the comeback they stopped against White Plains.

In the elimination-bracket final, Alexandria took a 7-4 lead on Charlee Parris’ fifth-inning grand slam.

Piedmont answered with Sarah Goss’ two-run triple and Jenna Calvert’s RBI single to tie it 7-7 to in the bottom of the fifth. Cayla Brothers doubled home Perry in the bottom of the sixth for the go-ahead run, and and tournament most valuable player Emma Grace Todd retired Alexandria in order in the top of the seventh.

In the winner-take-all “if” game, White Plains rallied from an 8-2 deficit with four runs over the sixth and seventh innings. Karli Otwell’s two-run single and Haylie Smith’s RBI single, followed by an error on Hallie Williams’ grounder, accounted for the Wildcat’s 4-run sixth.

Leighton Arnold crushed a solo home run to lead off the seventh, and Smith called daughter Savannah Smith to the circle for the fatiguing Todd, who worked 206 pitches over three games Thursday. Smith, who struggled against White Plains on Wednesday and Alexandria on Thursday, summoned her best, inducing Callie Richardson’s pop to Jenna Calvert in left field, Cassidy Arnold’s pop to Perry and Haylie Smith’s pop back to the circle.

Savannah Smith parked under the easy fly ball, caught it then spiked it on the artificial surfaces, touching off a celebration in the stadium where her mom played collegiately.

“I knew I had it,” Savannah Smith said. “I was just so ready to catch it and get to the team and celebrate or win.

“I don’t really remember. It was just kind of heat of the moment. I guess I did a pretty good ‘Gronk’ on it.”

Piedmont needed every run, and the difference makers came on Piedmont’s 5-run fifth inning. A two-out throwing error on Savannah Smith’s grounder up the middle got a run home, and Cayla Brothers followed with a 3-run bomb.

Perry followed Brothers’ homer with a solo bomb, and Piedmont led 8-2.

“I told the girls that we were coming here today to scratch and fight and claw for 21 innings,” Rachel Smith said. “I was here for them to fight and scratch and claw for 21 innings, and that’s what they decided to do today,

“They bought into that philosophy, and we had to do that to come out on top. That was the only way that we were going to get through three games today. They showed a ton of heart and determination and composure under pressure, and I couldn’t be more proud of this group of kids. They’ve grown up a lot in this tournament.”

The first county title of Piedmont’s fast-pitch era comes after the Bulldogs made the state tournament for the first two times in their fast-pitch era, in 2021 and 2022.

“This is awesome,” Todd said. “I’m so glad we got to do it my senior year, and I’m just thankful for the team we have. They always have my back, and I never doubted them at all.”

Now, all that’s left to decide is where to get that steak. Rumor has it, the Bulldogs will go north, to nearby Centre.

“They said Tony’s,” Perry said, referring to Tony’s Steak Barn. “I don’t know Toni’s, but that’s what they said.”

All-tournament team

MVP: Emma Grace Todd, Piedmont.
Most outstanding defensive player: Cacey Brothers, Piedmont.
Most outstanding offensive player: Leighton Arnold, White Plains.
Piedmont: Jenna Calvert, Sarah Goss, Savannah Smith.
White Plains: Hallie Williams, Callie Richardson, Cassidy Arnold.
Alexandria: Clancy Bright, Jill Cockrell, Christian Hess.
Oxford: Berkley Mooney, Ashlyn Burns.
Pleasant Valley: Lily Henry, Haylie Lee.
Weaver: Kynlee Fulmer, Peyton Marvasty.
Ohatchee: Ellie Carden, Savannah Reaves.
Jacksonville: Carli Fritts, Dailyn Wood.

2023 Calhoun County softball tournament

Woodland Park

Double elimination
First round
No. 7 Weaver 1. No. 10 Jacksonville Christian 0
No. 6 Ohatchee 17, No. 11 Saks 0
No. 4 White Plains 19, No. 13 Anniston 1
No. 5 Pleasant Valley 18, No. 12 Faith Christian 0
No. 8 Jacksonville 9, No. 9 Wellborn 4
Winners’ bracket
No. 2 Oxford 4, Weaver 1
No. 3 Alexandria 8, Ohatchee 1
White Plains 7, Pleasant Valley 6
No. 1 Piedmont 1, Jacksonville 0
Elimination bracket
Anniston 24, Faith Christian 2
Ohatchee 14, Anniston 1
Weaver 13, Wellborn 0
Pleasant Valley 22, JCA 5
Jacksonville 15, Saks 0
Woodland Park

Winners’ bracket semifinals
Alexandria 3, Oxford 1
White Plains 7, Piedmont 0
Winners’ bracket final
White Plains 7, Alexandria 4
Elimination bracket
Weaver 3, Ohatchee 0
Pleasant Valley 6, Jacksonville 3
Piedmont 20, Weaver 0
Oxford 5, Pleasant Valley 1
Piedmont 8, Oxford 3
Jacksonville State University
Elimination bracket final
Piedmont 8, Alexandria 7
Piedmont 8, White Plains 3
Piedmont 8, White Plains 7

Cover photo: Piedmont players hoist the trophy Thursday after winning the program’s first Calhoun County fast-pitch softball title. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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