Steward shines in circle, leads Spring Garden past Cedar Bluff in Class 1A, Area 11 softball tournament championship

The Class 1A, Area 11 softball champion Spring Garden Lady Panthers. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

SPRING GARDEN – Spring Garden junior pitcher Avery Steward was in control Tuesday during the Lady Panthers’ Class 1A, Area 11 softball tournament games against Cedar Bluff.

In the first game, Steward held the Lady Tigers without a hit through 4 2/3 innings and just two for the game in Spring Garden’s 6-2 victory. She also finished with six strikeouts.

Steward was even stronger in the area title game. She had a no-hitter going through 6 2/3 innings before eighth grade designated hitter Tylee Bradford doubled to left.

Kaylyn Vadon followed with a double to center to score Bradford, then Anslee Evans reached on an error. Blakelea Hall followed with an infield single to score Vadon, but Steward slammed the door by striking out Anna Henderson in the Lady Panthers’ 5-2 victory.

The win secured Spring Garden’s third area softball title in four seasons, and it also secured Spring Garden’s annual spot in the East Regional at Sand Mountain Park in Albertville. The Lady Panthers take on Area 10 runner-up Coosa Christian on Tuesday beginning at 9 a.m.

Cedar Bluff also advances to the regional tournament where they will take on Area 10 champion Ragland, also at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Steward said she was unaware how close she was to no-hitting Cedar Bluff in the second game. She finished with six strikeouts.

“I was kind of surprised they didn’t hit more the second game after playing them in the first game,” said Steward, who also held Cedar Bluff to just two hits in the first game. “I’m really proud and I’m glad we were able to get the area (championship) win since we weren’t able to get it last year.”

Spring Garden head coach Ann Welsh said Steward was “in total control.”

“She was working around batters. She didn’t throw a lot of pitches high. They hit a lot of ground balls and we were able to make plays on those. She was just calm, cool and collected when she was up there. She really holds her composure well.”

Cedar Bluff coach Mandy Walker also applauded Steward’s effort against the Lady Tigers.

“She does a really good job of mixing it up,” Walker said. “We talk about how we’re going to attack her and hit her, then she ends up pulling something else out, a different threat than what we’ve practiced for or talked about. She’s good at what she does.”

In their first game on Tuesday, Spring Garden scored three runs in the bottom of the third, two of which came on a double to left by Lilly McCain. The Lady Panthers added a run in the fourth on Olivia Law’s solo shot to center field for a 4-0 lead.

The Lady Tigers cut Spring Garden’s lead in half with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth, one of which came on a double to right center by Ciana Smith.

The Lady Panthers scored two more runs in the bottom of the fifth on a double to center by Helena Ingram for the final. Ingram led Spring Garden at the plate in game one by going 2-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs.

“We worked a lot this past week on putting runners in position and having to move them,” Welsh said.

Blakelea Hall suffered the loss for the Lady Tigers after working 4 2/3 innings. She gave up an earned run on five hits with a walk and two strikeouts.

Cedar Bluff clinched its regional berth with a 13-8 victory over Jacksonville Christian. Bradford belted three hits, including a double, with three runs and a RBI.

“She’s been killing the ball at practice,” Walker said of Bradford. “We gave her an opportunity and she came through for us all night. I’m proud of that.”

Smith was 2-for-4 with a double, a run and a RBI. Anslee Evans added a pair of hits, a pair of runs and four RBIs. Kaylyn Vadon also came away with a pair of hits, drove in a pair of runs and scored three times.

Cedar Bluff built a 9-0 advantage before the Thunder attempted to rally. Jacksonville Christian sent 10 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth and scored six runs to make it a 9-6 game. The Lady Tigers countered with a four-run bottom half to take a 13-6 advantage.

Vadon earned the win after working 5 1/3 innings. She allowed four earned runs on two hits with four walks and seven strikeouts.

The win set up a second meeting with Spring Garden on the day. The Lady Panthers scored three runs in the bottom of the third and two more in the sixth to take a 5-0 advantage.

McCain doubled. Steward, Ingram and Maggie Reedy had the other Lady Panther hits. Ingram scored a drove in a run. Steward, Maggie Jarrett and Layla Ingram each scored a run.

Hall suffered the loss for the Lady Tigers after she tossed six innings. She gave up an earned run on four hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

As is custom for the Lady Panthers in their final home game of the season, the seniors get to take their banners off the outfield fence. This year, the Lady Panthers have only one senior in Reedy.

“It means a lot,” Reedy said. “Seeing the seniors do it last year made me think I wanted to do that this year, and now it’s already here. I didn’t think it would come so fast.”

But the Lady Panthers still plan to play plenty of ball games next week and even further into the state tournament at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park

“We kind of talked a little about that earlier,” Welsh said. “I said I’m done with just making it. I want to make it to that next step (state championship game). We’ve accomplished the first step. Now we just have to get through regionals. We’ve made it to regionals and we’ve made it to state, but I want to move on to that next one. This is the first step in getting there.”

Despite losing several key players from last season, Cedar Bluff also plans on making another deep postseason run.

“Coming into this season, everybody was saying we lost everybody, and I told the girls from day one that that’s the thought, that some people think we may not make it back to regionals. I asked them what they wanted. What are our goals? Our first goal was to try and win area. We gave it our best shot, but here we are going back to regionals.”

The Class 1A, Area 11 softball tournament runner-up Cedar Bluff Lady Tigers. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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