With eight starters returning from it 2017 state-championship winning team, expectations were high for the 2018 Pisgah softball team.
But the Eagles did not make it to the state tournament for just the second time in program history. That lit a fire of determination to get back to the top in 2019.
Pisgah extinguished that fire by winning the 2019 Class 3A State Championship with a 4-1 victory over Wicksburg in the state finals Friday at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park.
The second-ranked Eagles went 4-0 in the state tournament while outscoring opponents 26-3 on the way to winning the program’s 10th state championship — tied with Alabama Christian for most in AHSAA history — since the school switched from slowpitch to fastpitch softball in 1999. Pisgah (47-10) defeated Hale County 8-0, Geneva 12-2 and Wicksburg twice, 2-0 and 4-1.
“The kids just treated it like a business trip. They were really focused, focused on what’s going on the field, not off the field,” said Pisgah head coach Billy Duncan, whose team went 11-0 overall in postseason play. “I think the 2018 season had a lot to do with our attitudes and our mindsets for the entire season. All year long all they talked about was state championship.”
Senior center fielder Kaylee Vaught said coming up short in 2018 fueled the Eagles this season.
“It made us work harder and become closer as a team because we all had the same goal,” Vaught said. “I think that through the adversity we became closer as a team because it made us realize our one true goal, getting back to Montgomery and bringing home the blue map (state championship trophy).”
Vaught, Kennedy Barron and Leigha Kirby made the Class 3A All-State Tournament team. Kirby, who went 3-0 and allowed just one run in 21 innings in the circle, was the MVP.
“Leigha and Kennedy did a great job (in the circle),” Duncan said. “Leigha went 3-0, Kennedy beat Geneva. Leigha pitched three games and gave up one run, very deserving of the MVP. We played good defense behind her. Made play after play after play.”
After defeating Wicksburg 2-0 in the winners bracket final Thursday morning, Pisgah was scheduled to face the Wicksburg-Prattville Christian winner in the state finals that afternoon. But inclement weather forced the finals to be postponed until Friday evening.
The Eagles were unfazed, Duncan said.
“The way I looked at it, I think it was an advantage for us to play the next day,” he said. “We’d played at 9 a.m. and we’re off the field at 10:30. The other two teams had to get up at 8 (a.m.) and play four innings then had to sit around for hours.”
In Friday’s state finals, Pisgah took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Macy Anderson scored on a throwing error, then added two more in the second when Hannah Duncan singled and later scored on a Wicksburg error and Lila Kate Wheeler singles and scored on Jaden Burgess’ RBI groundout. Pisgah upped its lead to 4-0 in the fourth when Duncan walked and scored on Burgess’ RBI single.
Kirby got the win in the circle while pitching a complete game with four strikeouts.
Pisgah reached the state finals with a 2-0 win over Wicksburg. Barron and Annie Hughes hit solo home runs for Pisgah in its winners bracket win over Wicksburg. Kirby got the win in the circle after pitching a five-hit shutout.
Pisgah opened the tournament with an 8-0 win over Hale County. Kirby pitched a two-hit shutout for the Eagles. She had 10 strikeouts. Vaught finished 4-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI for the Eagles while Anderson was 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Hughes hit a two-run homer and closed 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored and Barron was 2-for-4 with an RBI double while Burgess singled.
Pisgah scored in every inning against Geneva. The Eagles held a 6-2 lead after four innings before cashing in for five runs in the bottom of the fifth. Molly Heard’s RBI single plated Wheeler in the bottom of the sixth to invoke the mercy rule. Vaught (one RBI), Barron (two RBIs), Heard (two RBIs) and Wheeler (one RBI) all went 3-for-4 for Pisgah, which totaled 18 hits and saw every player in the lineup record at least one. Burgess went 2-for-3 with an RBI while Hughes had one hit and two RBIs, Bella Bobo and Hannah Duncan had one hit and one RBI and Anderson had one hit.
Barron got the win in the circle, recording four strikeouts over six innings.
Pisgah has six starters returning in 2020, forming what Billy Duncan called a “solid core.” He’s also sad to say goodbye to his three graduating seniors, Anderson, Hughes and Vaught.
“Proud of those seniors and the legacy they leave,” Billy Duncan said. “They made big plays (in the state tournament). Big hits. Great defensively. Annie was amazing at shortstop, making plays I don’t know that any other kid in the complex makes. Kaylee made a running catch on a ball that was gone in the winners bracket (final) that would’ve put us down 3-2. Macy was trying to scale the fence on a foul ball one time. They led by actions. They’re a big loss for us. It’s time for somebody else to step up and accept those roles.”
Pisgah won both the Class 3A softball and girls basketball state championships during the 2018-19 school year. Pisgah also accomplished that feat in 2003 and 2005.
“To be able to play in a state championship game as a senior is a big deal, (so) winning both of those state championship games that I've played in is a dream,” said Hughes, an Auburn basketball signee. “I really just can’t express how thankful I am to have such good teammates and coaches in both sports. We were able to finish on top and made a lot of good memories doing so.”
Vaught, a UAH softball signee, called it dream ending to her high school career.
“It meant a lot to get to end with both a basketball and softball state championship title,” said Vaught, a starter on both Pisgah state title teams this school year. “To win one title is an unreal but to close your high school career with two back-to-back titles is an unreal feeling.”