Two years later, Divas return to World Series winner's circle

The Knockout Divas, two years removed from their national championship at Lagoon Park, won the 12U World Series in Panama City Beach, Fla. Members are, front row from left: Coach Miranda Griggs, Chloe Taylor, Kamryn Hammock, Sydney Johnston, Madilyn Walding, Macey Pierce, Gerritt Griggs and Peyton Dees. Back row, from left: Coach Jeremy Pierce, TJ Woodall, Mallie Harrison, Celeste Ragsdale, Kaytie Chandler, Kaleigh Heard and manager Charlie Dees. 

After winning the 12U World Series in Florida, it might have been a little much to expect the Knockout Divas to win the 14U Nationals in Alexander City a week later, but manager Charlie Dees couldn’t complain after his Montgomery-based team finished third in the older age division.

“We had a lot of confidence,” Dees said. “We didn’t know what to expect, playing against these older girls. We had played in a couple of 14U tournaments (during the season) to get them prepared. The game’s a little faster and the pitchers had to move back three feet (to the high school distance of 43 feet). That was a little challenge for my pitchers at first.

“They challenged themselves and didn’t give up. We were outsized a lot, but sometimes big things come in small packages.”

The Divas captured the 10U USA Softball nationals in Montgomery two years ago and won the 12U USFA (United States Fastpitch Association) World Series in Panama City in the middle of July over 17 competitors despite a lack of practice time this season because of coronavirus.

“What makes our team special is there’s no selfishness,” Dees said. “If I sit one, there’s no pouting. We have great parents. They believe in our vision, our mission and trust what we’re doing with the girls. It would be amazing to see what we could do is we practiced three or four times a week as a team.”

Ten of the 11 members were on the team in 2019. Five are part of the original team that started playing in tournaments in 2015.

“We’ve picked up a couple of players that are full time now that are big contributors to the team, mainly in the pitching area,” Dees said. “We’ve got Mallie Harrison, who has a 2008 birthday, Kaytie Chandler and Kaleigh Heard. Those three girls have been lights out on the mound.

“A lot of teams have one good pitcher. A lot of organizational teams like the Bolts (Birmingham Thunderbolts) have four or five and they may be from four or five different states. What I like about this team is I have players from Clanton, Dothan and Phenix City and everybody else is tri-county. To me, that’s a local team.”

Dees lines up local sponsors as well to keep the players’ parents from having to pay for participation in tournaments during the year.

“Parents don’t have to pay a dime for their kids to play,” he said. “The sponsors take care of that.”

The players have competed in 68 tournaments over the team’s six-year existence, compiling a 233-102-5 record in the process. After competing in 12-under for the past two years, the players will transition to 14-under this fall as several of them compete for spots on their respective high school teams.

Macey Pierce, who Dees considers his “most developed player,” played for Johnny Giles’ varsity softball team this spring at Chilton County High.

“She started at shortstop on the varsity at Chilton County for Johnny Giles as a seventh grader,” Dees said. “She can play anywhere on the field, she’s my leadoff batter. In big games when we’re facing teams that can really run, she’s my catcher.”

That was the case in mid-July when the Divas elected to play in the USA Softball B&C World Series at the Bailey Sportsplex in Alexander City. The local squad, which includes three players from Wetumpka, one from Millbrook and one from Prattville, won all three games in pool play along with eventual World Series champ Adidas Show Elite. The two teams won their first two games in bracket play before facing off in the winners’ bracket finals of the double-elimination tournament. After losing 2-0, the Divas were defeated in the elimination-round finals by the Alabama Bombers 11-7.

“We had the best pitching staff in Panama City,” Dees said. “We probably had, if not tied for first, the second-best pitching staff in the 14U World Series outside of a couple of girls from Adidas Show Elite. And they’re all 15 years old.”

The top of the lineup struggled in Alexander City, but Dees said his team got timely hitting from the bottom half of the lineup, including Kamryn Hammock of Phenix City, Celeste Ragsdale of Millbrook and Harrison.

Dees’ daughter Peyton and Pierce were among the 30 players from this region and the 360 nationally chosen to participate in the 12U USA Softball All-American Games at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Aug. 13-16.