Different approach paying off for Lady Red Devils

Central took some losses early to be ready for postseason

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comMay 8, 2014 

Joe Paull jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com Central's Allie Kelley pitches against Smiths Station Thursday afternoon.

Coaches often talk about the "process," though, of course, that process differs between each person.

For first-year Central High softball coach Matt Hendricks, the process focused on long-term expectations. Early-season results, while important, paled in comparison to the long-range goals of the program.

Yes, the team practiced at 100 percent every time out, but they avoided pushing themselves too hard in games early in the season.

"It was a lot of, 'What did we do right? What did we do wrong? How do we fix it?'" Hendricks said, describing the team's struggles early in the year.

There were a lot more losses than they were used to, but the players responded and now, Hendricks said, the team is in a much better position as it prepares for the AHSAA Class 6A South Central regional qualifier on Friday and Saturday in Troy, Ala. First-round games start at 10:30 a.m. on Friday at the Troy Sportsplex.

"We're healthy and fresh," he said. "(Pitcher) Allie Kelley is really, really healthy. We limited how much we threw her earlier in the year, so she's really hitting her stride right now. We've got a great staff, a great ace and a great defense, and those are all good things to have at this point in the year."

The regional is an eight-team, double-elimination tournament that will stretch over two days. The Lady Red Devils will face Spain Park in the opener of the tournament. If they win, they will face the winner of Prattville and Lee-Montgomery in the second round. The other first-round contests are Jeff Davis-Wetumpka and Pelham-Auburn.

The top two teams to emerge from the region will play in the state tournament on May 16-17 in Montgomery.

Speaking of Spain Park, Hendricks said his team would face a solid club that "won't beat itself."

It's important, he said, to get the ball rolling fast and set the tone for the entire tournament.

"I think that's how it is in any sport in this situation," he said. "You want to get things started and set the tone. Things are contagious."

A lot of that, as Hendricks said, would come down to the team's advantage in the circle.

Allie Kelly is the ace of a solid staff that will go a long way to determining how Central performs in the tournament.

Kelley is 15-7 with a 2.16 ERA and 149 strikeouts on the season.

As a result of the strong staff and strong defense, Hendricks said he believes if his team can hit, it will stand a good shot to win the tournament.

He has a number of players to rely on, from Taylor Corbett (.495 average, 15 stolen bases) to Kaelen Scott (.382, 30 RBIs) to Kristin Studds (.365, 37 RBIs) and a host of others.

"If we can go in there and play smart offensively, then we've got a shot to do well," he said. "It always comes down to execution. You've got to execute. If we stay within the moment and trust the process, we can win it."

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