“I was never nervous,” Saks coach Michelle Lively said. “I might be during other games, but it’s just a connection that Taylor and I have. I’ve been coaching her since the eighth grade, and I just look at her and can tell she’s going to do what she needs to do. And she’s been successful doing that.”
With the count 2-2, West recorded the strikeout to seal the Calhoun County softball tournament championship. The strikeout was one of 13 for West.
“There’s nobody more deserving than her to get credit like this,” Lively said. “But there are a great group of girls behind her. They’re young, but they’re catching on and taking on new leadership.”
West, a senior who led Saks to its first county tournament championship since 2008, allowed one hit and a walk in seven innings of work.
The key to her success? The answer isn’t that complicated.
“I pitch better when it’s dark outside,” West said. “That’s just how I roll.”
The close call in the seventh inning wasn’t the only opportunity fourth-seed Oxford had to score. In the fourth inning, Stewart Gail Chase reached on an error and wound up at third base with only one out.
“A pitcher like Taylor is hard to hit so when you get on you have to make something happen,” Lady Yellow Jackets coach Wendy McKibbin said.
West said afterward she actually likes situations like the one in the fourth inning.
“It makes it a bigger out,” she said. “It’s not just a situation when we’re strike them out or make an easy play, it puts pressure on you.”
Under pressure, Saks got out of the inning with a pop out and strikeout.
The lone run for the second-seed Lady Wildcats came in the first inning and had Lively believing Saks was going to score more than the one run it eventually managed.
Pinch-runner Haley Moore replaced West, who was walked with two outs. Moore moved to second on Kelly Kilgore’s single and scored when Laken Haynes reached on an error.
“In the first inning when we started hitting the ball, I thought it was great and we were getting the ball rolling and score a couple of runs every inning,” Lively said. “I thought it was going to be a close, back-and-forth game. But I’ll take it.”
With two weeks of games left until the Class 3A, Area 8 tournament, including a two-game series with 10th-ranked White Plains, Lively is feeling good about her defending state championship team, which is ranked ninth.
“We’re capable of a repeat if we can work on a few things,” she said. “They’ve got the drive for it. They are asking me already when the next practice is. They’re ready to go, but taking things one day at a time. They want to get better every day.”
Oxford 10, Alexandria 5 — Oxford survived a marathon of more than two hours, getting six runs in the fourth inning. Turner had three hits to pace the Yellow Jackets, while Stewart Gail Chase and Sydney Williams each had two.
Alexandria made it a game in the fifth inning, adding three runs, but it was unable to overcome the strong hitting of Oxford. Timberlyn Shurbutt recorded two hits for the ninth-seed Valley Cubs.
Oxford added three insurance runs in the sixth inning, which were enough to hold off a late push by Alexandria with a run coming in each the sixth and seventh.
Alexandria 12, White Plains 5 — Alexandria took advantage of White Plains errors to stay alive in the tournament. The Valley Cubs scored six times in the fifth inning to take control.
Alexandria scored three runs each in the first and fourth innings. Kaitlyn Rhodes, Taylor Ellison and Erin Farlow each had two hits.
White Plains struggled to score runners when they reached base. Although scoring in the first, third and fourth innings, the Lady Wildcats left the bases loaded in the first and fifth innings along with two on base in the fourth. White Plains received multi-hit games from Morgan Cobb, Anna Snider and Lauren Mueller.
All-tournament team: MVP and Defensive MVP – Taylor West, Saks; Offensive MVP – Sydney Williams, Oxford; Other team members — Kelly Kilgore, Saks; Tiffany Springer, Saks; Stewart Gail Chase, Oxford; Raegan Nunez, Saks; Lexie Higgins, Oxford; Amanda Young, Alexandria; Kaley Gorden, Alexandria; MiKayla Owen, White Plains; Anna Snider, White Plains; Brooke Angle, Wellborn; Ashley Hedgepath, Pleasant Valley.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.