Anybody’s ballgame

Published 5:27 pm Thursday, March 26, 2009

If Las Vegas set odds on the Chilton County Softball Tournament, it would interesting to see who the favorite would be this season.

Vegas usually sticks to college and professional sports, of course, so deciding the tournament’s team to beat is almost impossible.

Mike Ratliff has been the Isabella coach for 19 seasons and says he can’t recall a year where so many teams—all six teams, really—have a legitimate shot to win the tournament.

Game 1: Maplesville vs. Isabella—4 p.m.

Game 2: Chilton Co. vs. Verbena—4 p.m.

Game 3: Jemison vs. Game 1 winner—6 p.m.

Game 4: Thorsby vs. Game 2 winner—6 p.m.

Game 5: Game 1 loser vs. Game 3 loser—9 a.m. Sat.

Game 6: Game 2 loser vs. Game 4 loser—9 a.m. Sat.

Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner—11 a.m. Sat.

Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner—11 a.m.

Game 9: Game 8 winner vs. Game 7 loser—1 p.m. Sat.

Game 10: Game 7 winner vs. Game 9 winner—3 p.m.

Game 11: (if necessary): Game rematch if loser has only one loss—5 p.m. Sat.

-double elimination format

-seeding determined randomly

“I’d say it’s whoever is on. You can’t rule anybody out,” Ratliff said.

The double-elimination tournament will begin at 4 p.m. today and last through Saturday if the weather permits. At press time, forecasts called for 80 percent chance of rain both Friday and Saturday. The tournament will be hosted by Thorsby at Sam Bentley Park, and school Principal Russ Bryan said a final decision about the tournament will be made this morning.

“We’re working with the people over at the park, and they’re doing everything they can do to get the fields ready to play,” Bryan said.

The tournament could be postponed, though not every team may be able to participate because of scheduling conflicts the new tournament dates would create.

But, if the tournament is played, who will win?

Chilton Co. The Tigers won the tournament two years ago, in coach Krisi Parrish’s first season, and were the runners-up last year. CCHS is 3-2 so far, not including last night’s game at Pelham, and 2-1 against county competition.

The problem, Parrish said, is hitting the ball consistently.

Isabella. The Mustangs (5-2) could be the biggest unknown coming into the tournament because they have played only two games against county competition and defeated both Verbena and Thorsby.

Isabella seems to have one of the best mixes of pitching, hitting and fielding of any county team.

“I want us to play well, but I want our team to be competitive at the end of year more than anything,” Ratliff said. “Making it to the playoffs is what we strive for.”

Jemison. The Panthers (3-10) have played the most games and the toughest competition of any county team and could be in the best position to perform well because of their rigorous early schedule. Jemison has played in three tournaments already that featured teams from higher classifications.

“We have spurts where we play really well, and then we have times where we look bad,” Jemison coach Leighsa Robinson said. “During the Gulf Shores trip [for a tournament on March 15-19], we saw good pitching and circumstances we wouldn’t normally see. That will help us.”

Maplesville. The Red Devils (5-2) were emerging as favorites before a 4-0 loss at Jemison that saw Courtney Killingsworth, a crucial player as both a hitter and pitcher, suffer an injury that will keep her out of the tournament.

But coach Ashlie Harrison said she thinks Killingsworth’s injury will only cause the rest of the team to pick up the slack.

“I think we’re confident because we’ve done so well this year,” Harrison said. “If we play defense, we’ll be fine.”

Thorsby. Last year’s champions have been an enigma. The pieces seem to be in place for a successful team, especially at the plate and in the field, where the Rebels (3-4) are still probably the county’s best team.

The problem has been pitching depth, where the loss of last year’s ace has hurt tremendously. Thorsby has given up 18 runs in games against Chilton County and Isabella, and both were losses.

“We’re having to rely on pitchers who, that hasn’t been their primary position,” coach Nicole Hilyer said.

Hilyer said her team is motivated to defend its title, though.

Verbena. Don’t look now, but the Red Devils (4-4) might have as good a chance as anyone else to win the tournament. Verbena is experienced at key positions, is benefiting from strong pitching for the first time in a few years, and has played enough close games against county foes this season to be both confident they can win and motivated that they haven’t yet.