E.A. Sports Today

Seeing positives

Vipers fall 6-5, but on-field rallies against Smoke and rain poke rays of sun through clouds of tough start to team’s first season in Oxford

Smash It Sports Vipers’ third baseman Makena Smith eyes a pop fly during Sunday’s game against the Texas Smoke at Choccolocco Park. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/Gunghophotos.com)

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — The Smash It Sports Vipers’ first-ever home series in Oxford netted their first win of the season and Sunday’s seventh-inning rally, which ended one run short in a 6-5 loss to the Texas Smoke.

The three-run rally that brought the would-be winning run to the plate showed a young Women’s Professional Fastpitch team still has 6-1 fight amid a 1-6 start.

The rally against rain showed a championship remains possible for Oxford this season, even if the Vipers don’t win it.

After losing two road games to rain in their first two series, the Vipers got one in Sunday at home. This despite a heavy thunderstorm that produced a sideways torrent, with heavy rain falling to within an hour of the scheduled 7 p.m. first pitch.

The rain broke at near 6 p.m. Field Crew started removing the tarp from Choccolocco Park’s signature field infield at 6:15 p.m.

By 6:55 p.m., a once pooled and puddled outfield became playable, and the game started at 8 p.m.

The facility’s performance against such elements gave Vipers general manager Don DeDonatis ammunition to make Oxford’s case for hosting the 2023 WPF championship.

“This would be the right place, because you have to have a venue that can handle these conditions that come up and certain things that come up where you have must games, and you have to do it,” DeDonatis said. “Turf, yes, you can play when the weather occurs, but to see grass and dirt and see this done and the job that these people did here, it’s remarkable.

“I would recommend this facility for anything to be played and any kind of championships. I witnessed it.”

Asked when the WPF will decide a championship host site, DeDonatis said “nothing has been announced yet.”

“It’s going to be shortly,” he said. “I’m confident. We’ll see what happens.”

The championship series is Aug. 15-17 at a site to be announced.

The Vipers’ roster includes players from as far away as California, and a doubtful dugout watched as Sunday’s lightning-laced, rain-swollen thunderstorm dumped its load onto their home field.

“I’m from Houston, so whenever it rains, we know, automatically, rainout,” Alissa Dalton said. “We were just sitting in the dugout watching it pour and the lightning, and we were all like, ‘There’s no way this game’s going to be able (to be played).

“The field crew was telling us they can get four inches of rain off in 30 minutes, and props to those guys for doing it, and the were soaked doing it.”

Left fielder and leadoff hitter Brooke Wilmes, an Iowa product who played for the University of Missouri, watched outfield conditions worsen.

“When I saw the puddle in left and center field, I thought it was done for,” she said. “Then I went inside for, maybe five minutes, and the whole thing was absorbed up.”

Joe Guthrie served as the Vipers’ acting head coach Sunday as head coach Gerry Glasco, also the University of Louisiana’s head coach, traveled to Louisiana to tend to seasonal recruiting duties. Guthrie said the Choccolocco Park staff shut down doubt about whether the game would be played quickly.

“We were all shocked went he city of Oxford said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play tonight,'” said Guthrie, a former UAB assistant coach whose new school-year job is as director of player development for Texas A&M. “We were sitting there looking at the sky and the radar and were like, we’re about to get six-and-a-half inches of rain. He was like, ‘No, we’re only going to get four, and it’ll hold five.

“That’s kudos to the grounds crew, knowing their field and knowing what they can do. They gave us all of the confidence in the world. They said we’re playing at 8, so we’re playing at 8.”

As for what happened after the first pitch, the Vipers trailed the whole way but had their highlights. Wilmes’ sacrifice fly in the second inning brought them within 3-1, and Raina O’Neal drove in the first of her three RBIs to make it 4-2 in the third inning.

O’Neal’s two-run single was the biggest blow in the Vipers’ three-run seventh and closed the gap to 6-5. Makena Smith drove in the first run of the rally with a grounder after the Vipers loaded the bases.

Kelsey Bennett represented the potential winning run when she came to bat with a runner on and two outs but struck out.

“It’s the beginning of the year,” Wilmes said. “We’re (seven) games in, and it’s not about how you start. It’s how you finish.

“Every single day, we’re growing as a team, as a unit, playing next to each other. Not a lot of girls have played next to each other, so it’s great to see the rally and the comeback. We just need to start doing it earlier and mix in pieces here and there.”

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