Usually when teams enter the postseason after taking on their area opponents, they’re facing somewhat of an unknown. They might be taking on a team they’ve vaguely heard about or even playing someone they’ve never met before.
But for Benjamin Russell’s softball team, there’s an air of familiarity heading into the Class 6A East Central Regional tournament which begins Thursday in Oxford.
“I’ve come to think maybe with technology being what it is and all that, kids can go online and look up a team and in and of itself build up a picture of what they think a team is going to be like,” BRHS coach Jessica Johnson said. “So now I kinda feel like it’s more of a positive to meet a familiar team because you know what to expect.”
In the first round of regionals, Benjamin Russell (22-18) will face Brookwood, which it took on during the Hoover tournament in early March. Although the Wildcats lost to the Panthers 12-2, Johnson said she’s not too worried about that score. The teams went back and forth to start the game before “the wheels fell off” for the Wildcats, according to Johnson, and Brookwood ran away with the victory.
Also, Benjamin Russell looks a lot different than it did two months ago.
“There are a few positive things and one of them is I feel like going, they’ll be thinking, ‘Oh, we beat them 12-2,’ so they might overlook us,” Johnson said. “Out of five innings, Asia (McWaters) did have five strikeouts and we didn’t strike out at all. I do also feel like we’re in a better place in the box, and our entire (defense) has change. The defense has very few spots that are the same.”
After playing Brookwood at noon, the Wildcats — win or lose — will play again at 7:30 against either Chelsea or Wetumpka. BRHS lost to Chelsea, 6-0, in early April, and while it didn’t play Wetumpka at all this season, Benjamin Russell has been in an area with the Indians for several years so is fairly familiar with their team.
BRHS needs to win at least one game Thursday to get to Day 2, which is Friday beginning at 10:30 a.m.
Although McWaters is next in line in Benjamin Russell’s regular pitching rotation, Johnson said Taylor Harris will get the starting nod against Brookwood because the Panthers saw McWaters during the regular season. Johnson said she doesn’t expect either McWaters or Harris to pitch complete games at this point in the season though.
“I don’t think this is a situation where either is going to go seven innings in any game that we play,” Johnson said. “If you’ve got the pitching to change, then you make the pitching change when you can. Their arms are a little bit more fresh now, so they both feel good.”
Johnson said she’ll be looking to her seniors to carry a lot of the leadership role. McWaters, Baylee Adkins and Taylor McVey all have a lot of playoff experience and can hopefully motivate the team throughout the tournament. Johnson also said Harris, as a pitcher and one of the team’s top hitters, has a natural leadership ability despite being just a sophomore.
“It could be anyone though really,” Johnson said. “Haylee Hunter has had a big bat for us this year, and Emma (Tapley) and Ryann Ruffin as well. If all those kids hit like they have and like they can, things look promising for us.”