Special to the Times
The Cullman Times
Wallace State softball sophomores Katie Gentle and BreeAnna Blevins were vital pieces to the team’s national championship run last week.
Each was recognized Thursday as NJCAA Division I first-team All-Americans. Gentle and Blevins became the first Lady Lions to earn first-team recognition since Kelsey Dennis in 2010 and the first set of teammates since Dennis, Sallie Van Kirk and Stephanie Needham each garnered the honors in 2009.
Gentle, a Hartselle graduate, finished with one of the best offensive seasons in Wallace State softball history. Hitting third in the lineup, Gentle compiled a single-season record of 74 RBIs, complementing her .456 average and 16 homers. She also added 25 doubles and a team-high 27 stolen bases and was named to the ACCC All-Region Team for her regular-season work and to the All-Tournament teams at the state and national levels.
Gentle earned national recognition all season. She was named the OC Sports NJCAA Player of the Week during consecutive weeks in March, becoming the first player in Wallace State history to achieve the feat in back-to-back weeks.
Gentle was at her best again during the national tournament. Her two-run homer lifted Wallace State to a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Santa Fe (Fla.) College in the Lady Lions’ tournament opener in St. George, Utah, and she added a homer and five RBIs in Wallace State’s second game, an 8-6 triumph over top-seeded Butler (Kan.) Community College.
“Katie had a great start to the season and tailed off just a little midway through. Once Katie refocused, she seemed to do something positive for us each game,” said Lion coach Jayne Clem, who led the program to its first national title in 2008. “Katie also set the tone at the national tournament. We had jitters during our first game. It had been a long day, but when Katie stepped up with that home run against Santa Fe, it seemed to relax us. After that homer, we bought into the idea that we were in Utah to win the whole thing.”
Blevins, a 15-game winner as a freshman, effectively shared the pitching load all season with co-ace Lindsey DeFee.
Blevins went 26-6 with a 1.56 ERA for the Lady Lions, throwing 27 complete games and 11 shutouts, and striking out 240 hitters in 188 2/3 innings. At the state tournament in Alabaster, Blevins pitched the clinching game, a 3-1 victory over Shelton State. In Utah, Blevins went 2-1 with a save in four appearances, striking 17 batters in 14 1/3 innings.
“Bree won a huge game for us at the national tournament in 2012, so she knew what to expect this year. She grew up a lot over the summer and knew what she had to do as a sophomore leader on this pitching staff,” said Clem, whose team finished 55-12. “Bree and Lindsey (DeFee) worked extremely hard over the winter, and they knew if they did their jobs, the offense would do what it was supposed to.”