HANCEVILLE ? Wallace State?s softball team adopted a motto this season of: ?Never give up and never give out.? The Lady Lions successfully fulfilled that slogan.
Wallace State fell one game shy of playing for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I national championship at St. George, Utah for the fourth time in five years, finishing third in the nation as the tournament?s No. 9 seed.
The Lady Lions? postseason march in both the state and national tournaments was intriguing. Wallace State fought back in the consolation bracket in the ACCC/Region 22 state tournament at Alabaster, winning five consecutive games to claim the program?s fifth state championship in six years and followed a nearly identical script at the NJCAA tournament, two weeks later, winning four straight before falling to eventual champion and top-seeded Chattanooga (Tenn.) State in extra innings in the consolation finals.
A year after failing to advance to the NJCAA tournament for the first time since 2006, Wallace State softball regained its national prominence and finished with a 62-12 record.
?At the national tournament we knew it was one and done for us like it was at the state tournament, after we lost our second game. We didn?t want that to happen. Our girls made their minds up that Alabama was going to be represented strongly and was going to earn the recognition we felt like we deserved; the recognition we didn?t get from our seeding,? said Wallace State coach Jayne Clem, a 10-time ACCC coach of the year. ?It all stemmed from last year. Our sophomores vowed we would be at the nationals this year and prove something to everyone. Their goal was to be playing on Saturday at the national tournament and to prove once again that Wallace State deserves to be at the top.?
After losing its second-round game to Chattanooga State, Wallace State reeled off four consecutive tournament wins over Lake Land (Ill.) College, State (Fla.) College, Blinn (Texas) College and Pima (Ariz.) College, setting up a rematch with Chattanooga State. The Lady Lions fell 7-2 in extra innings, allowing five runs in the eighth.
?We stuck around and watched the championship game between Salt Lake and Chattanooga State. I wanted our freshmen to get a taste of what playing in the title game would be like. They?ve already vowed to work hard this summer and do what?s needed to make sure we?re playing in that championship game next year instead of sitting there and watching it,? Clem said. ?As an elite team, our girls know what it takes to get there, and I believe in them.?
Sophomores Heather Parker, Michal Robertson and Whitney Brown were NJCAA All-Tournament selections along with freshman catcher Paige Rowland.
Parker, a NJCAA 1st-team All-American candidate, finished her stellar Wallace State career with a 29-7 record this season with a 1.52 ERA. She had 32 complete games in 37 starts, tossing 10 shutouts and striking out 261 hitters in 243 1/3 innings. Offensively, she hit .390 with seven homers and 36 RBIs.
Robertson, a Northport native, had a strong NJCAA tournament, hitting four homers and driving in 11 runs. She finished the year hitting .316 with seven homers and 27 RBIs.
Brown finished with a .350 average, eight homers and 48 RBIs, while Rowland hit at a .373 clip with a team-high 13 home runs and 36 RBIs.
Other offensive leaders this season included Lauren Payne who hit .373 with seven homers and 46 RBIs, Megan Christensen with five homers and 28 RBIs and Katie Gentle with a .342 average, six homers, 39 RBIs, 44 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.
?We had different girls step up at different times all throughout the year, especially the sophomores in the postseason,? Clem said. ?We had more All-Tournament members in Utah than any other team.?
Wallace State has won seven state championships overall under Clem, finishing no worse than third during its last four NJCAA national tournament appearances. Before this year, the Lady Lions were 2008 national champions and national runner-up in 2009 and 2010.
Wallace State?s sophomore class leaves with a 114-26 record in two seasons, one state championship and two ACCC Northern Division crowns. All 10 sophomores plan to continue their athletic careers at four-year colleges.
The remaining sophomores not previously mentioned are Madison Scott, Hueytown HS; Kirsten Gibson, Springville; Morgan Martin, Bob Jones; Kayla Sneed, East Limestone and Keyana Chapman of Munford.
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit wallacestate.edu.