Big step by Lady Tigers could get even bigger
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
The words seem to be predictable from any coach when his or her team reaches the end of the road but falls a little short of the ultimate przie.
"We had a great year. We have nothing to be ashamed of."
T.R. Miller Lady Tigers softball coach Jamie Riggs was no exception to those words after his team was eliminated at Thursday's Class 3A state tournament in Montgomery.
In this case, those words are very true. The Lady Tigers have nothing to be ashamed of after the greatest season in school history.
They posted a school record 18 wins (they actually have three additional wins through forfeits), their first ever Area championship and their first ever trip to the state tournament.
"I think a big reason why we were able to take that next step to the next level was we became mentally tougher this season," Riggs said.
The Lady Tigers showed that Thursday in their elimination game against West Blocton. Down 5-0 in the fourth inning without any hits, a blowing rain in their faces…it would have been easy to call it a season right there.
They didn't. They battled back in that inning to take the lead. Even though they were unable to hang on to that lead as well as leads in the seventh and 11th innings, it was a credit to their character.
Thursday was not just a one-time thing.
Perhaps the Lady Tigers whole season turned around April 1 when they hosted Flomaton. Down 3-0 late in that game, T.R. Miller was in danger of a third straight loss and fifth loss in eight games. A setback in that game would have dropped the Lady Tigers' record to just 5-5 at that point.
Thanks to a key two-run triple by Jamie Peacock in that game, T.R. Miller rallied for a 4-3 win over a Flomaton team that qualified for the Class 2A state tournament. In fact, that marked the first time the Lady Tigers had ever beaten Flomaton since it switched to fast pitch softball.
"I don't think there is any question that was a huge turning point in our season," Riggs said.
The Lady Tigers also came from behind late in the game to beat Escambia County and survived a nine-inning struggle at Excel.
"That Excel game was a lot like the West Blocton game except we lost to West Blocton. We really had to dodge some bullets late in the Excel game in order to win," Riggs said.
The Lady Tigers do lose three key seniors, Rebekah Neal, Jamie Peacock and
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Lacey Lucas. Neal split the pitching duties with Halie Ellis and also handled third base and leftfield. Peacock made a smooth transition from leftfield to centerfield this season. Lucas made some valuable contributions in her roles as a spot starter in rightfield, pinch hitter or defensive replacement.
With six starters back, the foundation is there for another deep postseason run next year.
"Our underclassmen got a lot of valuable postseason exerience," Riggs said.
While the Lady Tigers made big strides this year, Riggs said there is still plenty of work to do.
"I think if we want to take things to a higher level yet, we have to get stronger. When you look at the teams in this state tournament, we were the smallest from a physical standpoint," Riggs said.