Why not us? — Thorsby takes runners-up in 2A state softball tournament

Published 2:15 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

The Thorsby High School softball team made school history at the 2024 AHSAA Class 2A State Softball Tournament bringing home the red map trophy as the class’ state runners-up. No team in any sport at Thorsby has reached a state championship game before this year’s softball team, and the Rebels did it for the first time on May 16-17.

First-year head coach Merritt Bowden, whose only experience coaching girls sports came as the golf coach at a previous stop before Thorsby, said he did not know what to expect entering this season. However, the team and the coaching staff seemingly gelled well from the start.

“It seemed like I made the transition pretty well, and I had some great assistant coaches that helped me along the way,” Bowden said. “It was a special year. It was different for me, there were a lot of things I had to learn in a short period of time, but the girls were great, and they adjusted to me and I adjusted to them. We found a way to make it work.”

Thorsby went unbeaten in both their area and regional tournaments to reach the state tournament, and they continued that momentum taking their first-round game against Pisgah High School 2-0 behind senior Makinley Turner’s no hitter in the circle. Turner threw a complete game surrendering no hits and striking out 11 batters, falling just one walk shy of a perfect game. The Rebels got both of their runs in the bottom of the fourth inning after singles from Allie Reeser and Summer Powell, and a walk from Braelyn Whitfield plated a run on a fielder’s choice. The second run came via a sacrifice flyout from Tamara Hinton.

“As the season went on, we got better and better,” Bowden said. “We had our shortcomings and had to fight through, but I could tell as we got down into the area tournament that things were really starting to come together with this team.”

Bowden and the coach staff threw different pitchers outside of Turner early in the season this year to make sure they had some other options for innings at other parts in the season. However, Bowden said having that rotation may not have allowed Turner to get into her groove until late in the season when she had the ball in her hands almost every day. She began rounding into her best form the later the season got, and by the time the Rebels arrived at the state tournament, her confidence in the circle had taken over.

“It was amazing to make school history in my last year, and do it with some of my best friends. The whole experience seemed surreal for us to even be in that position as a 2A school, and people doubted us, but we came out and proved everyone wrong,” Turner said. “I know that people on the team look up to me, and I knew I had to step up and be the leader that they deserved to have. I am always picking them up, encouraging them, and I think if you stay up it is hard for someone to bring you down. I was keeping everyone positive, and only good things can happen when you do that.”

Thorsby faced off with Zion Chapel High School in the second round, and Turner was again dominant with a final line of seven innings pitched, five hits, two runs and 12 strikeouts. Brooklyn Reeser scored in the first inning on a dropped third strike to put the Rebels on top 1-0. Zion Chapel tied the game, and the score stood 1-1 until the fifth inning when Brooklyn Reeser roped a two-RBI double to center field to make it 3-1.

In the sixth inning, after singles from Allie Reeser and Whitfield, Addison Wood lined a two-RBI single into center field to push the game to 5-1, and ultimately a 5-2 win that put Thorsby into the Final Four.

“We would not have gotten to (the state championship) game without those performances from Makinley, and we recognize that, but I loved the way this team got in there behind her and made plays,” Bowden said.

One of the four seniors on the team Emma Scott called the state tournament experience intense, and the competition was stiff. Scott was forced to sit out her entire junior year with a labrum injury, but in her return season this year, she started for Thorsby in left field and her last high school softball experience was in the state championship game.

“It was pretty awesome to make history and be that close to a (state championship) trophy,” Scott said. “It is cool knowing that your senior year you got to make history with people you have known your whole life.”

In the Final Four, Thorsby faced Wicksburg High School and showed a large amount of fight with just two hits offensively. Turner limited Wicksburg to three hits themselves, but a 0-0 game entering the sixth inning Thorsby’s counterpart score three runs across the last two innings to win and advance to the state championship game. Allie Reeser and Powell collected singles for the Rebels.

That moved Thorsby to the consolation bracket and a rematch with Pisgah for the last spot in the championship game. The Rebels jumped out to a 3-0 lead quickly after three runs in their first at bat on an Allie Reeser flyout that plated two runs, followed by an RBI single from Whitfield. Pisgah tied the game later, but in the bottom of the fifth inning, Turner broke the tie with an RBI triple, and Allie Reeser followed right behind her with an RBI double to put the Rebels on top and into the state title game, closing Pisgah out 5-4.

Turner was 2-for-2 to lead the way for Thorsby, and its three-four-five hitters in the lineup in Turner, Allie Reeser and Whitfield all recorded an RBI.

“It feels (amazing) bringing home the red map,” Whitfield said. “I knew as soon as we came out of the area and regionals where we went undefeated again, I knew this year we were getting at least first or second. We knew.”

Thorsby fell in the state final 10-0 in a rematch against Wicksburg, but the loss was quickly forgotten as the team reflected upon what it just achieved. Bowden said the team this year was built off of the teams the softball program had before 2024, and the work and preparation that the program had done with current Thorsby Principal Holly Matson at the helm. The 2024 team with Bowden leading the way saw a lot of benefits from Matson’s teams from years past, and they one upped the former coach finishing one place higher than her Thorsby team that finished third in the state tournament when she was in high school. All of the preparation and work led to this year’s state tournament, and ended with a red map that will sit in the Thorsby hallways for years to come.

“You do not get to the final game unless there is something special going on with your team that is outside of the game. Our girls and team were coming together, and you could sense a true feeling of love between teammates,” Bowden said. “Unless you have a great locker room, and it becomes something bigger than the game itself, then you are never going to get to these types of games. I felt like all of that was happening from this team, and something special was about to happen.”