Win or lose, the Tigers (22-10) play one more game Friday at 6:30 p.m. A win over Locust Fork pits them against the winner of the game between Cherokee County and Crossville. A loss puts Cleburne County into the elimination bracket against the loser of the Cherokee County versus Crossville contest.
Saturday’s games begin at 9:30 a.m. The team that wins three games in the championship bracket will be one qualifier for next week’s state tournament. The team that wins out in the elimination bracket will also qualify.
From what Ervin has been told about Locust Fork, the Hornets will be a quality opponent.
“I think they’re supposedly kind of young but they hit the ball well and have a really good pitcher. Traditionally, they’re usually pretty good in girls’ sports,” Ervin said. “They come out of a pretty tough area – Oneonta, St. Clair County. All those teams play good softball. They have to have something going for them to come out of that area and go to regionals.”
To prepare for Locust Fork and the games that follow, Ervin has been working his hitters against a variety of live pitching. They’ve faced Taylor Estes, a control pitcher who moves the ball around well; Madison Jones, more of a breaking ball pitcher with lots of spin on the ball; and power pitcher Kiara Akles.
“That’s what we’re going to do again (Wednesday) and (Thursday), just make sure we see all three different kinds so we’ll be ready for whatever we see when we get there,” Ervin said.
The Tigers enter the regional tournament as Class 4A, Area 10 champions. In the area championship game last Thursday, Cleburne County defeated Lincoln 3-0. All three runs for the Tigers came in the second inning. For the first run, Kiara Akles hit a ball into the gap in right centerfield and circled the bas-es for an inside-the-park home run.
“Kiara can fly so when she turned first going for second (third base) coach (Todd) Gable was just wheeling her in,” Ervin said.
Haley Andrews then walked and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Hannah Gossage double to left center, scoring Andrews. Gossage got to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice bunt by Bailey Beam.
Akles was the winning pitcher. She gave up one hit and one walk while recording 12 strikeouts.
Extra bleachers down the left field line weren’t enough to accommodate the crowd. When the game ended, Ervin said the ‘Angels in the Outfield’ rushed the field.
“That six o’clock game (against Lincoln), there were people everywhere,” Ervin said. “That’s the most people I’ve ever seen at that ball field.”