E.A. Sports Today

Fouts-ian drama

Centerpiece of Oxford-bound Vipers’ draft comes through as WPF franchise picks Alabama’s Fouts in sixth and final round 

Oxford mayor Alton Craft (pitcher’s circle, left) and PARD director Don Hudson throw ceremonial first pitches before Monday’s game between city employees, which preceded a watch party for the Women’s Professional Fastpitch draft at Choccolocco Park’s signature field. (Photo by Joe Medley)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Montana Fouts hasn’t pitched a game for the Oxford-bound Smash It Sports Vipers Women’s Professional Fastpitch team, but she delivered walk-off style drama on draft night.

Consider it a case where a last-round pick was far from “Miss Irrelevant.”

The softball-transcendent Alabama standout who, as late as last week, was “99 percent sure” to be the Vipers’ first pick Monday was their last.

What was left of the Vipers’ draft party at Choccolocco Park’s signature field broke out in cheers, and Oxford spokeswoman Lorie Denton came away relieved.

“The fact that she was drafted means that she did decide tonight that she does want to participate in the Women’s Professional Fastpitch league,” Denton said.

Organizers of Monday’s WPF draft watch party gave away Smash It Sports Vipers shirts. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Fouts was the Vipers’ sixth-round pick in a six-round draft. She was all but certain to be the team’s first pick for the first season of its recently approved five-year deal with Oxford, Denton said, but questions arose about Fouts’ other commitments.

Fouts had committed to “a lot” of summer camps across the Southeast with Alabama catcher Ally Shipman, Denton said. Shipman was the Vipers’ second-round pick Monday.

“Montana also had some commitment with USA Softball that just came about, so it kind of came down to how committed Montana is to be able to play a hundred percent of the Vipers’ games,” Denton said. “She’s probably not going to be able to be a hundred percent, but she will be able to be here for the majority of the games, is what we’re hearing from the general manager (Don DeDonatis) at this point.”

So clinched a day of softball and draft watching on what will be the Vipers’ home field when they play their home opener against the Texas Smoke June 23-25.

City employees marked the occasion with their very own softball game. Wearing free Vipers shirts given to all comers, city employees split into two teams with snake-themed names.

The “Mayor’s Moccasins” outscored Oxford PARD director Don Hudon’s team, “Don’s Diamondbacks,” 23-4 over three innings leading up to the start of the draft.

Play on the field paused for employees to take to the Signature Field seats to watch the draft on large-screen TVs mounted on the lower corners of the main grandstand.

A television screen at Choccolocco Park’s signature field shows the stream of Monday’s WPF draft as Oklahoma State’s Kiley Naomi is announced as the Vipers’ third-round pick. (Photo by Joe Medley)

The draft streamed from Oklahoma City, with WPF commissioner Lauren Chamberlain announcing picks.

The Vipers took Tennessee pitcher Ashley Rogers. They took Oklahoma State’s Rachel Becker and Shipman in the second round, Oklahoma State’s Kiley Naomi in the third round, Cal’s Makena Smith and Louisiana’ Karly Heath in the fifth round.

City employees resumed playing on the signature field during the late rounds, and play was much more competitive. They played to an 18-18 tie, with former Oxford High standout Bailey Clark slamming the game-tying, and game-ending, home run.

The game had broken up, and many employees had gone home by the time Fouts’ draft selection was announced.

Denton joked that she “can’t confirm or deny” the Vipers’ second-round selection of Shipman impacted Fouts’ decision to add the WPF to her busy summer.

“We’ve just been in constant contact with the general manager over the last five or six days,” Denton said. “We, of course, had hoped to have something solid by Thursday of last week.

“When the draft started, we still didn’t have anything certain, so it sort of was one of those fluid situations.”

Denton said city officials had not yet talked to DeDonatis in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s draft.

“The story is, she is on the Vipers’ roster,” Denton said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens with their camps, but the catcher is also committed, so we’ve just got to wait and see.

“But I’m very excited. Very, very excited.”

There was plenty of that to go around during Monday’s activities round the draft.

Clark, a 2020 Oxford graduate who saw a shoulder injury end her sophomore and take all of her junior season and the COVID-19 pandemic shorten her senior season, had the thrill of homering again on what was her high school home field. 

“It was absolutely amazing,” she said. “It definitely brought back tons of memories from high school. I realized how much I missed playing.”

Now an Oxford EMS ambulance driver, she imagined what it would’ve meant to have women’s professional softball in her hometown when she played.

“It would’ve meant a whole lot,” she said. “Just to be able to come out here and have the dream, it would be like, ‘They’re out her playing this now, and this could be me.’”

Former Saks High softball coach Randy Law, who works as an ambassador for the city of Oxford, characterized the WPF as “very good softball.”

“Just to be here in the city of Oxford, that’s great,” he said. “I’m excited for the league to come.”

A child’s teddy bear sits atop a carrying bag as a Vipers shirt drapes over a seat at Choccolocco Park’s signature field during Monday’s activities to mark the Women’s Professional Fastpitch softball league’s draft. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Cover photo: Oxford city employees, wearing Smash It Sports Vipers T-shirts, cheer as the Vipers are mentioned during a live stream of Monday’s Women’s Professional Fastpitch draft. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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