Alabama Christian Academy coach Chris Goodman considered retiring after the 2020 softball season was canceled by coronavirus, but decided to return in 2021 as a promise to coach Haley Ingram through her senior season.
And what a season it was.
The Eagles, struggling to find any wins early, finally caught fire in a late-season tournament to reach .500, then went on to earn their AHSAA-record 23rd fast pitch state tournament appearance, finishing fourth or better for the seventh consecutive time in the state tournament.
“I know we finished fourth, but I am so proud of this team for continuing to work and just finding a way to win the area (tournament), win the regional and get to state,” said Goodman, who retired after 15 years as the Eagles’ softball coach. “I’m as happy with this team as I have been with any of the teams. There was six seniors on this team and they could have easily tanked this thing early in the year and said, ‘We’ve already got a (championship) ring (from 2019) and we’re probably not good enough to win it.’ They didn’t let that happen. And then the younger ones just kept getting better and better. We finally got to be a pretty good team by the end of the year.”
Alabama Christian’s remarkable turnaround to finish 28-20 ranks atop the 15 coaching performances from Goodman as the Eagles’ softball coach, earning his selection as the Capital City Conference Coach of the Year.
And he’s quick to point to the leadership on and off the field of Ingram, a Faulkner University signee who batted .517 this season and had an on-base percentage of .566 as the Eagles’ leadoff hitter. It’s not like she has been any big secret -- she has a career .428 batting average -- but 76 hits this season along with 30 stolen bases made her a legitimate game changer every time she stepped to the plate and an obvious choice for Capital City Conference Player of the Year honors.
“I think just growing up and being a senior this year and deciding she wanted to play at the next level just elevated her game,” Goodman said. “Because the tools have been there. She’s got all the tools.
“When you can run like that and cover ground in the outfield and hit like that, she could get better at her short game but she can hit for power. But that’s a part of her game she could actually get better at and even become more dangerous at the plate. If she can put down a bunt three or four feet from the plate, you’re not going to throw her out at first. Then, she can hit it out of the park, too.”
In addition to her batting average and stolen bases, she was second on the team with 54 runs scored, first in doubles (15) and second in home runs (two). She struck out just 12 times this season.
Ingram edged out 2020 Capital City Conference Player of the Year Alanna Aiken for the award. Aiken had another stellar year in her own right, particularly at the plate.
“Her bat just came alive this year,” Catholic coach Whitney Toole said. “She had three grand slams and 14 home runs. She’s just a natural. She finally realized how to be a leader and what to do. She’s been a leader by example, but last year’s seniors were boisterous and after losing them, I think she realized if it’s going to be done, I’ve got to do it. But she was our go-to, for sure.”
Ingram, Aiken, Catholic center fielder McKenzie Norton and Alabama Christian pitcher-shortstop Rose Costanza earned all-CCC first team honors for the third consecutive year.
St. James led the way with five players on the first team, followed by Catholic with four, Alabama Christian with three and Trinity with one. Montgomery Academy revived its softball program this year, but played an abbreviated junior varsity schedule.
2021 CAPITAL CITY CONFERENCE
OF -- McKenzie Norton, Sr., Catholic
OF -- Haley Ingram, Sr., Alabama Christian
OF -- Makenzie Corley, Sr., St. James
1B -- Bellah Bright, Sr., St. James
2B -- Hannah Grace Griggs, Sr., St. James
SS -- Alanna Aiken, Sr., Catholic
3B -- Linda Hill, Sr., Trinity
C -- Mallory Hildebrand, Jr., Catholic
DH -- Morgan Parish, Sr., St. James
Util -- Izzy Warrick, 8th, Alabama Christian
P-- Carissa Gilbert, Jr., Catholic
P-- Rose Costanza, Sr., Alabama Christian
P -- Emily Needham, 7th, St. James
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Haley Ingram, Alabama Christian
COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Goodman, Alabama Christian
Honorable mention: Mary Kathryn Adcock, CF-2B, Jr., Trinity; Katie Chappell, OF-2B, Jr., Alabama Christian; Savannah Christian, P, Jr., St. James; CeCe Crawford, 1B, Jr., Catholic; Cam Greene, DH, Jr., St. James; KK Hall, SS, So., St. James; Annabelle Pugh, 2B-C, Fr., Alabama Christian; Maddox Trumbly, OF-3B, Jr., St. James; Chloe Walden, 2B, Sr., Catholic; Lily Windham, C-SS, Sr., Trinity.