The Sylacauga 16U Little League All-Star team defeated Coosa County to win the state title.
Head coach Leigh Holly said the team had an unmatched chemistry and having a group like this is something that happens once in a lifetime.
“They were a team on the field and they were a team off the field,” Holly said. “Those 12 girls were always together whether they were piled into somebody’s hotel room or we went out to eat; it was always the 12 of them.”
The girls won the tournament in three games, beating Phoenix City 28-1, Coosa County 15-5 and Coosa County again in the title game 18-8.
The team lost the toss against Phoenix City, which designated the girls as the visiting team.
It also allowed the team to bat first, and they wasted no time paying back the losses of previous Sylacauga teams.
“They got in the box, they swung the bat and they were smart hitters,” Holly said. “We actually batted 19 batters in the first inning and scored 15 runs. Both in-the-park homers were hit in that inning and there were no errors on those hits, they were true in-the-park home runs.”
Sylacauga’s first at-bat lasted over an hour. Holly said the coaches teach the girls to run the bases aggressively, and her team was able to capitalize on Phoenix City’s weaknesses.
“We ran a lot of straight steals once we realized the catcher didn’t have the arm strength to get the ball to second,” Holly said. “Once they realized they could hit that pitcher, they really laid into it. By the top of the third, we had been playing for about two hours and 15 minutes. So for the last out I actually made a runner leave a base early so she would get called out.”
Laura Machen pitched both games against Coosa County and helped get the win for her team. She was only needed for two innings in her first outing of the tournament, since the offense was cleaning up against Phoenix City.
Holly said Machen’s pitching was a big factor in the wins, along with the help of the batters.
“Lexie Wright and Deven Varner both had in the park home runs against Phoenix City,” Holly said. “Devon Varner also had a triple (Wednesday) night. We were up 4-3 with runners on second and third and Devon hit a triple to give us a cushion. The next hit, when she was on third, she ran home, slid into the plate and broke her ankle in two places.”
Holly said she thought the triple would be a momentum change for the team, but after two outs the team made two errors and Coosa scored five runs.
“The score was 11-8 our way going into the bottom of the fifth inning and we knew we were probably about to go seven innings,” Holly said. “We thought we would squeeze out another run or two because of where we were at in our lineup. We were actually coming up with our No. 6 batter in the box. Our girls managed to put seven more runs on the board and end the game early.”
The All-Star team had little time to prepare for the tournament, and only managed to get five practices in before the first game. The coaches tried to help the girls focus on the basics and taking things one step at a time.
“This team has a saying that we try to play by,” Holly said. “We try to win the inning. If we can win every inning, we’ve won the game. That helps to keep them focused on what’s at hand and to let the stuff in the past go.”
Holly said the support of her assistant coaches, Shannon Thornbury and Wade Holly, was immeasurable and that they did a wonderful job with the girls.
Holly, who usually coaches younger age groups, said the 16U All-Stars appreciated the support from the other teams.
“Even though they had already been beaten out of the tournament, the 11-12 year old team and the 9-10 year old team still came out to cheer them on,” Holly said. “The bleachers were packed with little girls and our girls tried to include them as much as they could. They were great role models to the younger girls.”