Steward steers Spring Garden back to state softball tournament

The Spring Garden Lady Panthers defeated Cedar Bluff, Ragland and Appalachian to qualify for the state tournament on Wednesday at Albertville’s Sand Mountain Park. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

ALBERTVILLE – Spring Garden junior softball pitcher Avery Steward knew Wednesday was going to be a long day.

It actually turned into a little bit longer of a day than even she anticipated with a 43-minute lightning delay in the third of three games, but that nor pitching three games in one day fazed her.

Steward earned wins in the circle against rival Cedar Bluff (11-4), Ragland (5-4) and Appalachian (12-6) to help Spring Garden claim the second Class 1A East Regional Qualifier spot at Albertville’s Sand Mountain Park. The Lady Panthers will head back to the state tournament, where they will take on Central Regional champion Maplesville on Tuesday at 10:45 a.m.

“It’s definitely been a crazy day, especially with the rain delay,” Steward said. “I did like that because it gave me a few minutes to be off my feet for a little bit and just kind of relax. It was helpful.

“I definitely tried not to walk too many people and throw the least amount of pitches as possible because I knew it was going to be a long day. We were going to have to win three games.”

Spring Garden head coach Ann Welsh said Steward was pitching “in a zone” on Wednesday.

“You could just tell by looking at her she has a different mindset,” Welsh said. “She knew this morning these three games were hers, and she was mentally prepared for that.”

The rest of the Lady Panthers (28-10) were too. In each game, they came up with the timely hits and scored multiple runs in multiple innings.

“Our offense definitely came through today big time,” Steward said. “We were hitting the ball.”

“I was pleased with the way we hit all day long,” Welsh said, “We did a good job moving runners for the most part.”

But the day did make Welsh a little nervous.

The Lady Panthers played Cedar Bluff for the sixth time this season early Wednesday morning, then advanced to face a Ragland team in the afternoon that’s been a perennial state tournament qualifier.

To finish things off in the nightcap, Spring Garden battled a rested Appalachian team that the Lady Panthers had just recently split with to end the regular season.

“Every game today made me nervous in more ways than one,” Welsh said. “Besides just going home, I know how hard we worked and the things we’ve done all week to prepare. We talked a lot about what we want from the end of the season. We’ve met our first goal, which was winning area. Now we’ve qualified from regionals for state. We have some more plans ahead of us, but we’re going to take them one step at a time.”

Certainly nothing was handed to the Lady Panthers during the East Regional. They earned it.

And Welsh couldn’t be any prouder.

“After our second game (an 8-1 loss to Skyline on Tuesday), we talked about how we just have a different path. We’ve got to take it one game at a time, but we know there’s three that we want to get to. That’s been our thing this year, one inning at a time, one batter at a time, one out, and one pitch at a time. I felt like we did a great job of just doing the little things to get us to the big picture. I thought we did that great all day long.”

But there’s still some unfinished business the Lady Panthers feel they need to take care of at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park come Tuesday.

“I’m really excited we’re going back,” Steward said. “I think this year it means a little more since we had to come back through the losers bracket and just fight to get our way there. Next week is going to be really tough, but I think this has prepared us really well.”

Spring Garden’s Avery Steward delivers a pitch against Spring Garden on Wednesday morning at Albertville’s Sand Mountain Park. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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