By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
If any local softball teams plan to make it out of their respective regional tournaments this weekend, they’re going to have to earn it.
Good Hope, Cold Springs, Vinemont and Cullman will all open play Friday versus ranked opponents, with many more scattered throughout the rest of their brackets.
Of course, the Raiders (36-7) are ranked, too, rising all the way up to No. 2 in Class 3A by the time the Alabama Sports Writers Association released its final poll of the season. They’ll be tested right out of the gate with a top-10 matchup against eighth-ranked Cordova. Gametime is set for 9:30 a.m. on Friday at Sokol Park in Tuscaloosa.
“I guess that’s fate,” said coach Wayne Harris, whose Red and White squad has now reached the regional level five years in a row. “It goes back to the saying, ‘You’ve got to beat the best to be the best.’ I believe whoever comes out of Tuscaloosa will proudly be able to say that.”
If it does manage to bounce the Blue Devils in the opener, Good Hope would likely have to turn right around and prepare for another top-tiered foe in No. 5 American Christian Academy. As if that weren’t enough, No. 4 Winfield — which Vinemont will get going against, also at 9:30 a.m. — is lurking in the bottom half of the bracket.
Storming through the consolation bracket to win the Northwest Regional Tournament in 2012 was no walk in the park for the Raiders. Adding a North Central Regional Tournament trophy to the mantle this year isn’t expected to be much easier.
“There’s no replacement for experience, and most of the teams have been in a regional tournament. There’s a lot of history, as well as the high rankings,” Harris said. “Our kids understand what we had to battle through, and that was after winning the first two games. You don’t ever want to lose that first game.
“Our goal right now is to get to Saturday, and once we get to Saturday, our goal is to get to Montgomery.”
In order to achieve those goals, the coach is keeping the message to his girls extremely simple — play mistake-free defense and score early.
“It’s amazing how when you take care of those two fundamentals, good things happen,” Harris said with a chuckle.
While Good Hope and Vinemont take on the 3A competition, Cold Springs (18-13) will also be in T-town to see what it can do against the 2A field. Pitching phenom Rilee White and the rest of the Eagles’ young-but-talented lineup are set to face No. 3 Pleasant Valley at 9:30 a.m.
The bus rides to the North Regional Tournament at the Huntsville Sportsplex won’t be nearly as long for 5A Cullman or 3A Holly Pond, but the competition is expected to be just as fierece.
The Bearcat bracket, which features 5A’s top-four teams, is absolutely brutal. Their first-round foe will be No. 4 Lawrence County, which sent the Black and Gold to the consolation bracket on Day 1 in 2012. First pitch is slated for 5 p.m.
No. 1 Scottsboro, No. 2 Hartselle and No. 3 Southside-Gadsden are Cullman’s other potential opponents as the tournament progresses.
The Broncos are the only local team showcased in an unranked matchup. They’ll go toe-to-toe with Geraldine at 9:30 a.m.
Don’t think Holly Pond is getting off easy, though. There’s a good chance the Green and White could run into top-ranked Pisgah as the tournament progresses.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.