The good thing about the Class 2A East Central Regional Tournament starting Friday in Oxford is there’s no clear winner heading in. There’s not one team that seems unbeatable or even a team that’s almost definitely going to get one of the top two spots to advance to state.

“From talking to a lot of people around us, it seems like there are four or five us who can get out of this regional,” Reeltown coach Kelli Hilyer said. “We’ve played a lot tougher schedule in my opinion to get ready for this situation. If the field is wide open in our region, hopefully our tougher schedule will show with our defense and hitting; we’ll just have that experience.” 

Area rival Horseshoe Bend will also compete in the same regional tournament, and HBS coach Hagen Whiteard agreed with Hilyer’s sentiments.

“I’ve been looking at everybody’s schedules on C2C and what I can find, and it’s pretty level across the playing field in our region especially,” Whiteard said. “My prediction is whoever is on it this weekend is who’s going to get one of those two spots and advance to next week.”

Horseshoe Bend starts off the tournament against Central Hayneville, which is part of a weak Area 6, and Whiteard expects to get the victory in Game 1. The Generals will likely meet Thorsby.

“I talked to (Jemison’s) coach earlier this week and he said (Thorsby) is a pretty well-rounded team,” Whiteard said. “They have some speed through the lineup and they are going to hit. He also said too that they will make errors, and again, that sounds like us. Sometimes we can be pretty solid but you give us an opportunity and we’re liable to make an error or two.” 

The good thing going for the Generals is they’re coming off a big area tournament against rival Reeltown. Heading into the Area 7 tournament, Whiteard said she felt like her team’s losses to Reeltown were more due to mental blocks, and she’s hoping because the Generals got over that hump, that’ll give them some motivation going into regionals.

There’s also always a fairly decent chance the teams will meet again. The Rebels start against Highland Home then will play either Leroy or Fayetteville, depending on the outcome of both games.

“I don’t know a whole lot about (Highland Home),” Hilyer said. “Not many people around us have played them, and we haven’t seen them in a tournament. I’ve heard they have a pretty good pitcher and a few good hitters. But I’m confident in our ladies that they’re going to come out and do their best.”

Hilyer said she feels good about the well-roundedness of her pitching staff but expects Chloe Davidson to get the starting nod. Bella Studdard, Kenzi Hornsby and Karly Cotten could all see time in the circle as well.

As for the Generals, they’ll see the return of Caly Carlisle who was out last week with a stomach virus. Whiteard said Carlisle should add some depth behind Danielle Mitchell, and she may also give the starting nod in the first game to one of her younger pitchers.

Whiteard and Hilyer will both be depending on some of their older players to show leadership this weekend, as they have the most playoff experience.

“Leighann (McWhorter) has definitely stepped into that leadership role that we’ve been needing her to all season,” Whiteard said. “The night we played Elmore County, she didn’t have a great night, and after that I told her, ‘I don’t want you to look back and think about what you could have done differently.’ Since then, she’s really stepped up. Ivy (Vickers) is the same way as well.”

Hilyer pointed to seniors Marlee Knox and Morgan McGuire, who both have a ton of playoff experience and played for the Rebels during the state tournament a year ago. But Hilyer is hoping the entire group will come together as a team which is something she felt she was missing during the area tournament against Horseshoe Bend.

“All in all, we’ve been working on team-building activities and communication,” Hilyer said. “More people are stepping up and leading, so it’s exciting to watch them come together and have fun. I’ve told them, ‘The talent is here; you just gotta get out there, have fun, communicate and it’ll all come together.’”

Both Horseshoe Bend and Reeltown take the field at 3 p.m. Friday and will play again at 6 p.m. win or lose. They must win at least one game to return for Day 2 on Saturday. 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.