There’s something especially tough about the losers’ bracket championship of the regional softball tournament for the team just dropping to the consolation bracket.
The team dropping down has usually come off a tough loss and missed an automatic bid into the state tournament. But the other team has battled through the consolation bracket, is coming off a victory and is getting its first opportunity at its chance at state.
That was exactly what Horseshoe Bend was up against Saturday afternoon. The Generals dropped a 10-8 decision to Leroy which forced them into the consolation championship against Thorsby. The Rebels, meanwhile, had just come off a thrilling 6-5 walk-off win over Reeltown to push them back to a rematch with Horseshoe Bend, which had beat them the night prior.
Not only did HBS lose its game to Leroy, it also looked like it was going to make an exhilarating comeback of its own before falling short in the final inning.
The wind was clearly taken out of the Generals’ sails, and they never seemed to recover. It resulted in an 8-2 loss at the hands of Thorsby. HBS finished one spot shy of the advancing to state after going 2-2 at the Class 2A East Central Regional Tournament in Oxford over the weekend.
“I hate to say it but there was just a different air about us after we lost that game to Leroy,” Horseshoe Bend coach Hagen Whiteard said. “I don’t think we recovered from it, and I don’t think we tried hard enough to recover from it.”
HBS started the day with a hard-hitting Leroy team, which racked up 16 hits in its win to advance to state. But despite the Bears’ offensive prowess, the Generals weren’t going away easily. Trailing 10-4 heading into the seventh, it looked like Horseshoe Bend was going to make a miraculous comeback.
Brooke Milner and Reagan Taylor each walked, sandwiching a Nadia Brooks single. The Generals had the bases loaded with only one out, and Danielle Mitchell capitalized with a two-run single to cut HBS’ deficit to just four runs. Abby Cheatam then drove in two more runs by lacing a single to center field, slicing the Leroy lead to 10-8. Ivy Vickers walked and Leighann McWhorter singled to once again load the bases, but Leroy converted two back-to-back forceouts at home to end the game.
“Especially when we started coming back in the seventh inning against Leroy, I think we had all that momentum and all that drive,” Whiteard said. “I think (Saturday) morning even they knew they had it in them to beat Leroy to go ahead and take that place in state, and then when they didn’t, it let them down. Instead of coming back, I think it really hurt us. We didn’t come back from it.”
Despite defeating Thorsby, 5-0, on Friday night to advance to the regional semifinal, Horseshoe Bend just didn’t look like the same team in its rematch with the Rebels. It managed only four hits and committed five errors. That was more miscues than HBS had committed in the three previous games of the tournament combined.
Although the Generals certainly wanted to advance further, they still felt like they accomplished a lot this season, especially after a rough start to the year.
“We definitely started off really rocky and we definitely had times where we would have really bad innings where it caused us to lose the whole game,” Whiteard said. “We overcame that, and they continued to work hard. They finally started seeing what they were capable of, and that’s a big deal.”