HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State's defending national championship softball team secured its ninth consecutive Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) North Division championship over the weekend.
The Lady Lions dropped a doubleheader to Snead State on Friday, but got help along the way to lock up yet another regular-season championship.
Wallace State now has its eyes set on a bigger prize, as defense of last year's thrilling ride to a NJCAA Division I national championship---the program's second---kicks into another gear. The Lady Lions open play in the ACCC/Region 22 tournament on Friday at 2 p.m., at Veteran's Park in Alabaster, seeking to win their third state championship in a row, seventh in eight seasons and ninth overall.
"We took the weekend off to clear our minds of softball. We're ready to get back to work today (Monday) as much as we can and hope to get on the field when the weather cooperates," said Wallace State coach Jayne Clem, who has been named ACCC Coach of the Year 11 times. "We are capable of playing as well as anyone in the country if we eliminate both the physical and mental errors that have hurt us at times. We've also got to bury a team once we get a lead. We will be fine if we are consistent and play as well as we did earlier this month."
Wallace State (42-24, 14-6 ACCC) plays the winner of Wallace-Dothan and Bishop State in its opening-round game.
Wallace State softball has experienced its share of ups and downs this season, navigating through its brutal schedule with a freshman-laden squad and with injuries to impact sophomores Kori Benson and Madeline Lee. Wallace State's newcomers were quickly thrown into the fire at the outset of the season, playing familiar national foes in non-conference tournaments in Texas, Georgia and in ones hosted by Wallace State.
The Lady Lions finished runner-up in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Georgia, in early March and then hit a hot stride later in the month. Wallace State reeled off wins in 17 of 19 games during a stretch from March 21 to April 13, which included the beginning of conference play.
Wallace State edged Shelton State and Calhoun by one game in the North standings. Freshman catcher Andrea McKenzie blasted a three-run, walk-off homer in last Tuesday's doubleheader split against Calhoun, and that eventually proved to be the division-clinching victory.
McKenzie enters her first state tournament with Wallace State, hitting .371 with seven homers and a team-high 65 RBIs. Lee, who is battling ligament problems in her thumb, leads the Lady Lions with a .408 average and has added 10 homers and 50 RBIs.
Benson, who was last year's ACCC/Region 22 tournament MVP, the most Outstanding Defensive Player at the national tournament and a NFCA All-American, leads the team with 14 homers. Benson, an Oak Grove product, clubbed a school-record 23 homers last season, but has battled back problems during her sophomore campaign, relegating her to a designated player role in the lineup.
Amanda Medders, who went to Brookwood High School, has evolved into Wallace State's most consistent pitcher, sporting a 17-11 record and 2.56 ERA. She has tossed 16 complete games.
Rachel Ragland is 17-9 with a 2.93 ERA, and Clem has been impressed with the recent work of Misty Doran, who is 5-0 with a 1.86 ERA and three complete games in only 37 2/3 innings.
"Our freshmen aren't freshmen anymore. They have seen it all. We grew up when we played in the tournament in Georgia and we can do it again. We've got to have the right mindset once Friday rolls around," Clem said. "We were struggling some last year going into the tournament, and it helped us regroup. We knew what we had to do then and it's the same this season."
The three-day tournament, which has three No. 1 seeds, concludes Sunday. The winner advances to the NJCAA Division I softball championship at St. George, Utah, from May 14-17.
Pictured: Wallace State freshman pitcher Amanda Medders delivers a pitch to a Snead State batter. Medders is 17-11 this season with a 2.57 ERA.