ACA wins regular-season title

ACA's Aniya Jackson steals second as the ball gets by LAMP shortstop Peyton Cely in Thursday's area game at ACA.

It takes the proper mindset to win at the ballfield.

Alabama Christian coach Chris Goodman said his team didn’t have the right mental approach in an area game against Catholic earlier in the week.

“Our approach today was pretty good, the way we came to the park,” Goodman said. “I was real pleased how we showed up today to play. I wasn’t happy Tuesday.”

Haley Pittman struck out 19 and held LAMP to a pair of hits in a 9-0 victory at ACA on Thursday, clinching the 4A Area 4 regular-season championship for the Eagles.

“She had it going well today,” Goodman said. “She has gotten stronger as the season has gone on. We have not played as many games on purpose this year. We’re trying to keep her fresh but also getting that balance of continuing to get stronger and stronger as the year goes.”

And while Goodman was happy, LAMP coach Anthony Norris was exactly the opposite, using a postgame meeting with his players to chastise them for their mental mindset entering Thursday’s game. A highly contested loss to Pittman and the Eagles in a meeting a week earlier at Lagoon Park should have set the stage for another battle on Thursday.

“We hit that good pitcher the last time we played them,” Norris said. “It’s all on us. She’s good but she’s not unhittable and we proved that the first game. My girls weren’t very disciplined at the plate. They weren’t looking for the pitch that she works ahead with today and they did the first time.”

Pittman stayed one step ahead of the Golden Tigers most of the day. After Peyton Cely reached base on an error after shortstop Monica Willingham couldn’t backhand her hard-hit grounder to lead off the game, Pittman countered by striking out the next 12 LAMP batters to help ACA take a 7-0 lead.

By the time Mackenzie Calhoun picked up LAMP’s first hit with a single to left, the deck was already stacked against Norris and his team. In addition to the obvious difficulty of facing Pittman, LAMP’s best hitter at the top of the lineup, Caroline Baker, was sitting out after severely spraining her ankle in practice last week. Norris also used Thursday’s game to rest ace Taylor Cassidy and give Caitlin Russell some work in the circle.

“The girl I pitched is a good pitcher and I’ve never played through any type of postseason play without having two pitchers,” Norris said. “She’s got to get some pitching time. Taylor can hold ACA’s at-bats if she starts this game, but the time to win is the area tournament. My deal this year is I’ve got another pitcher who needs some reps and if I can save Taylor a little bit, that’s what I’m going to do.”

He saved Cassidy for two innings, but elected to bring her in after ACA quickly built a 3-0 lead on Russell. Pittman slammed Cassidy’s first pitch into the scoreboard behind the center field fence for a three-run home run that ended any thoughts of a LAMP rally.

The Tigers got two base runners in the sixth as Cely drew a walk and Chandler Gaskin singled to right, but Pittman recovered with a strikeout and a popup. She hit Gracey Norris with a pitch in the seventh, but struck out the other three batters to give the Eagles the regular-season area title and serve as host for the area tournament on April 30 and May 2.

ACA (23-8) improved to 5-0 in area play with an area game remaining against Trinity next week. The Eagles will face the Wildcats in a first-round area tournament game on April 30. LAMP (18-6) is 2-2 in area play and has area games remaining on Monday and Wednesday, both at Catholic. Regardless of how those games turn out, the Golden Tigers and the Knights will play each other again in a first-round area tournament game on April 30 at ACA.

ACA is off until Tuesday when the Eagles play a doubleheader at Wetumpka. LAMP plays Prattville Christian in a first-round game on Friday in a tournament at Stanhope Elmore.