Central softball coach Mitchell Holt told his players before the second day of the Wetumpka Invitational that his goal was to have them playing under the lights Saturday night. Although the evening’s end didn’t go as planned, the Lady Red Devils came through on that objective.
The Lady Red Devils finished second in the Wetumpka Invitational with a 5-1 record over the two-day tournament. Central piled up victories over Stanhope Elmore, Enterprise, Lee, Beauregard and Lawrence County before losing to Rehobeth 10-3 Saturday night.
“It was pretty much a complete turnaround from the previous weekend,” Central head coach Mitchell Holt said. “We came off a loss at Eufaula, and it was like night and day. The biggest thing was we played like we were capable of playing. They were all one team.”
Much like their male counterparts on the Central baseball team, the Lady Red Devils ran roughshod through most of the competition in their latest tournament. Central outscored its first five opponents 31-7 and shut out Beauregard and Lawrence County.
Several Central players took turns tacking up runs in the invitational. Leadoff hitter Jadia Jones got on base early and often, notching nine hits in the tournament while stealing nine bases. Freshman Shelby Newsome proved a nuisance to pitcher after pitcher in the tournament and ended the series of games with six RBIs.
Newsome’s impressive performance followed an 0-for-2 start to the tournament, a turnaround which Holt said is typical from her.
“Shelby is consistent,” Holt said. “She’s pretty stoic in her emotions, and I think that helps her tremendously to handle failure. When she’s not performing to her level, she’s able to overcome it and do it the next time.”
Jones and Newsome were just a few of the Lady Red Devils who delivered runs in the games. Holt said the ability of anyone in the lineup to contribute to the offense was a testament to each girl’s hard work in getting ready for each game.
“Right now, we’re scoring runs in a lot of different ways,” Holt said. “Our slappers are doing what they do, our righties are producing with the short game and extra-base hits. We were able to play different styles, I guess.”
While the Lady Red Devils kept chalking up runs, Central pitcher Gracie Deaton repeatedly stopped the opposition from scoring them.
Deaton added to her strong season by tallying five wins after appearing in all six of the Lady Red Devils’ games. She shined leading up to the championship game against Rehobeth, entering the matchup with 18 innings of work with only four earned runs and 11 hits allowed.
While Deaton took the loss against Rehobeth, Holt had nothing but praise for his starter.
“Gracie carried us in the circle,” Holt said. “It’s a relief to know you’ve got her. Last year was her first full year on varsity, and she surprised herself. This year, she’s better than she was last year. She works her tail off. She’s one of those you’ve got to tell to go home.”
Holt said the competition at the tournament allowed the team to see where it may stand this year. Several Region 3-7A teams were in the tournament, and Central was able to play Enterprise and Lee of that group. The Lady Red Devils won the games by a combined score of 18-4.
Holt took the same approach he displayed when Central fell in the Sydney Cooper Invitational on Feb. 25. He was obviously pushing for his Lady Red Devils to walk away with the tournament title, but he saw the challenges faced and achievements accomplished as something that can help the team grow stronger.
“Playing the best makes you better,” Holt said. “You don’t improve by playing teams that you’re far and away better than. You may lose some, but it brings out the best you and shows who can and can’t.
“It really builds that winning mentality where you have to overcome to get to where we hope to go.”