Little did anyone know that over the course of the next two days, the Lady Purple Devils would fight and claw its way back through the loser’s bracket, and win six straight games to bring home the big blue trophy for the third consecutive year.
But that is exactly what they did.
After losing to Pleasant Home 2-0 in the first game, the next six games were wins, and they outscored the opponents in the six games 67-8.
They became the first team in the history of St. Clair County to win back-to-back-to-back state championships in softball.
Pleasant Home 2, Ragland 0
Many Ragland fans said the Lady Purple Devils had not even woke up yet to play this 9 a.m. game. The bats were silent and the Ragland girls appeared to be going through the motions. Ragland lost 2-0.
In the top of the first inning, Ragland’s Kailey Echols was stranded on second base.
In the first three innings, Sommar Wright pitched in and out of trouble.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Lady Eagles had runners on second and third with just one out. Wright got the next two batters to pop up on the infield.
In the second inning, with one out, a triple to right field put a Pleasant Home player in scoring position. But again, Wright pitched out of trouble.
In the third inning, a Pleasant Home player reached second with one out and was at third base with two outs, but again, Wright was able to get out of the inning with no runs scoring.
In the fourth inning, Wright struck out the side.
Ragland had its best scoring opportunity in the fifth inning. J. J. Looney singled with two outs. She stole second and went to third when the throw to second went into centerfield. Kassidy St. John walked, but Lexi Goodwin struck out to end the threat.
Pleasant Home finally touched up Sommar Wright for two runs in the fifth inning, but not before some great defensive play by the Lady Purple Devils in the field.
The first Pleasant Home batter singled, stole second, and went to third on a bad throw. The next hitter bunted the ball back to Sommar Wright, who immediately got the base runner at third base hung up between third and home. Wright threw the ball to Emily Church, who was covering third, and Church tagged the runner out. The player who bunted the ball was streaking for second base, but Church threw the ball to centerfielder Lauren Wright, who was covering second base and applied the tag for the double play.
But the inning did not end well as a bunt single, stolen base and single down the right field line plated the first Pleasant Home run. The girl who singled in the first run would later score the second run, and that’s all Pleasant Home needed to win the game 2-0.
Ragland 20, Fayetteville 0
Whatever offensive punch Ragland was missing against Pleasant Home, they found in the second game against Fayetteville.
The Lady Purple Devils scored in every inning and went on to eliminate the Lady Wolves, 20-0. Ragland scored seven runs in the second inning and seven more in fifth inning to win the game with ease.
All they needed was the one run they got in the top of the first inning as Lauren Wright doubled and her sister Sommar Wright singled her home to make it 1-0.
The Lady Purple Devils batted around in the second inning as Looney was hit by a pitch and St. John singled. Goodwin had a sacrifice bunt with Looney scoring on an error to make it 2-0. Echols walked to load the bases, and Church cleared the bases with a double to the centerfield fence to make it 5-0. Sommar Wright singled and Callie Kay followed with a two-run single to make it 7-0. Leah Byers had an RBI on a groundout to make it 8-0.
Sommar Wright was in control on the mound as she allowed just one hit the entire game.
Ragland added four more runs in the third inning as Echols reached on an error and Church drove her home with a single. Sommar Wright singled and Kay blasted a two-run double to make it 11-0. Byers followed with an RBI single.
In the fourth inning, Taylor Boswell tripled to the centerfield fence and scored on a sacrifice fly by Lauren Wright to make it 13-0.
Seven runs in the fifth inning put a finish to this game.
Kay doubled and scored on a single by Byers. After a walk to Goodwin, Lauren Wright had a two-run double to make it 16-0. Echols followed with a two-run single to make it 18-0 and then Church blasted a two-run home run over the centerfield fence to make the final score 20-0.
Ragland 13, Maplesville 2
The last game Ragland played Thursday was a 13-2 victory over Maplesville.
The Lady Purple Devils wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard, scoring four runs in the first inning. Echols blasted a two-run home run followed by a solo shot by Church.
Church drove in two more runs in the second inning to make it 6-0.
Maplesville scored two runs in the top of the third inning to make it 6-2, but that would be as close as they would get.
Ragland added four more runs in the bottom of the third inning to make it 10-2. Byers was hit by a pitch, followed by a Looney single. Boswell reached after the Maplesville shortstop dropped a pop up and Byers scored. Goodwin had a two-run single and Sommar Wright had an RBI-single to make it 10-2.
Ragland scored its final three runs of the game in the fourth inning. Byers and Goodwin walked and Lauren Wright brought them around with a double. Echols drove in Wright to make the final score 13-2.
Ragland 14, Athens Bible 0
Ragland started its run to the title Friday with a 14-0 victory over Athens Bible in five innings. The Lady Purple Devils scored in every inning except the third inning.
They scored four runs in the first inning as Sommar Wright, Kay, and Looney all had RBI singles. Shyann Hazelwood scored on a passed ball.
In the second inning, Goodwin doubled and courtesy runner Boswell scored on a Lauren Wright single. Church then blasted a two-run home run to make it 7-0.
They added four more runs in the fourth inning as Kay had a two-run double while Byers and Carley Echols had RBI singles.
The final three runs came in the fifth inning for Ragland as Church had an RBI-single, Echols scored on a wild pitch and Church scored on an infield hit by Looney.
Ragland 4, Kinston 2
With a 4-2 victory over Kinston, Ragland advanced to the championship round.
Ragland took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning as Lauren Wright doubled down the left field line on the first pitch of the game. She went to third base on a passed ball. Wright scored on a fly ball by Church.
Kinston scored single runs in the first and second innings to take a 2-1 lead into the fourth inning.
Echols doubled and Church smacked a two-run home run in the fourth inning to make it 3-2 Ragland.
Kinston put two runners on base in the fourth inning, but Sommar Wright was able to get the next two batters out.
In the fifth inning, Ragland’s defense was on display as leftfielder Leah Byers grabbed a line drive.
The next great defensive play in the inning was when first baseman Destiny Gardner stretched to catch the ball and held on to it. The first base umpire called the Kinston runner safe initially, but the home plate umpire overruled the other umpire and called the Kinston runner out.
Ragland added an insurance run in the top of the sixth inning. Echols doubled and scored on a double by Kay to make the score 4-2.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Kinston brought the tying run to the plate with one out. The next Kinston batter grounded to shortstop Church, who stepped on second base and threw to first baseman Gardner for a double play to end the game.
With the win, Ragland advanced to the championship round to face Pleasant Home…again.
Ragland 13, Pleasant Home 2
Needing two wins to record its third consecutive state title, Ragland defeated the Lady Eagles 13-2 to force another game for all the marbles.
The Lady Purple Devils took a 4-0 lead in the second inning. Kay singled and Byers reached on an error. Looney also reached on an error that allowed Kay to score. A single by Lauren Wright scored Byers while a walk with the bases loaded to Kailey Echols scored Looney. A sacrifice fly by Church scored Wright.
The Lady Eagles scored one run in the fourth inning to make it 4-1, but in the bottom of the fourth inning, Ragland put the game out of reach, scoring nine runs to make it 13-1.
Goodwin walked and Echols doubled to put runners on second and third. Church had a two-run single to make it 6-1. Sommar Wright walked and Kay had an infield hit to load the bases. Byers reached on an infield error that led to a run. Looney walked with the bases loaded to force in a run. Carley Echols was hit by a pitch that made it 9-1. A balk by the Pleasant Home pitcher forced in another run to make it 10-1. Goodwin was hit by a pitch, and Lauren Wright had an RBI single. Kailey Echols had a sacrifice fly and then Boswell stole home to make it 13-1.
Pleasant Home scored one run in the fifth inning to make the final score13-2.
Ragland 3, Pleasant Home 2
Ragland spotted the Lady Eagles a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but fought back to win the game and the 1A crown, 3-2.
It was a play in the top of the first inning that changed the complexion of the game entirely, and forced Nix to make adjustments in the infield.
The Pleasant Home leadoff hitter singled to start the game. She stole second and third. With one out, the next batter bounced back to Sommar Wright on the mound. Wright threw home to Goodwin and there was a collision at home plate. The Lady Eagle runner was safe, and Goodwin was lying face down knocked out. Goodwin said she was knocked out for about two minutes, and was on the ground for several minutes.
“I don’t remember what I hit,” Goodwin said after the game. “I just know it knocked me out. I really wanted to get back out there, but the coaches wouldn’t let me. It’s okay now because we won the title. It’s amazing to be state champs.”
With the injury to Goodwin, Nix had to move Church from shortstop to behind the plate at catcher; moved Kailey Echols from second to shortstop; moved Destiny Gardner from first to second; and brought in Kassidy St. John to play first base.
Church said going from shortstop to catcher is not really that big a deal.
“Playing the catcher’s position is just something natural to me,” Church said. “It’s hard changing from one position to another, but players are going to react to it.”
“I was ready to go out there, and keep my team going,” St. John said. “Winning another state championship is awesome.”
Ragland took a lead they would never relinquish in the bottom of the second inning, Carley Echols was hit by a pitch, and St. John walked. Lauren Wright walked to load the bases. Kailey Echols had a bloop two-run single to make it 2-1 Ragland.
Sommar Wright got stronger as the tournament went on. She was also aided by some great defensive plays, especially two in the top of the fourth inning.
First, there was a diving catch in centerfield by Lauren Wright. After Lauren Wright made the catch, Sommar Wright ran to centerfield to high five her sister.
“Lauren means everything to me,” Sommar said. “She has never dove a day in her life. I told her this weekend that if she didn’t dive, I was going to be so mad at her. And she finally dove, and it just melted my heart because I love her more than anything. She is the main reason that motivates me.”
The second great play of the inning saw Gardner, who is now playing second base, cover first base for the third and final out. Gardner slightly collided with the Lady Eagle player, but held on to the softball to make the out.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Ragland made it 3-1 as Carley Echols was hit by a pitch, sacrificed to second, and scored on a single by Kailey Echols.
The Lady Eagles made it 3-2 in the top of the fifth inning on an RBI-double.
In the top of the sixth inning, Lauren Wright made another outstanding play in the field. Pleasant Home had runners at second and third with one out. A fly ball to centerfield was caught by Lauren, and then she fired home to gun down the Pleasant Home runner as Church applied the tag to end the inning, and keep the one-run lead.
The play also preserved the win, and gave Ragland its third consecutive state crown.
Sommar Wright was named Class 1A Tournament MVP.
“To me, everybody on this team deserves to be most valuable players,”
Sommar Wright said. “I would not have been named MVP if we did not have everybody. We have put so many hours into this. We are a fighting team, and we were not going down like we did in regionals. We knew it was going to be hard fighting back. We cried together today, fought together, and played four games today.”
Making the All-Tournament Team from Ragland were Emily Church, Lexi Goodwin and Callie Kay.
Sommar Wright said even though they lost their first game of the tournament, she knew they were not coming in second place.
“I knew we would fight back, and if we needed to, beat somebody twice,” Wright said. “I knew we were going to win; it didn’t matter who we were going to play.
One senior who did not get to play because of a torn ACL and surgery was Madison Oliver.
“It feels great to go out on top,” Oliver said. “I’m so happy for my teammates.”
Church said the last three years have been wonderful.
“Playing with Madison, Sommar, Lauren and J.J. and the teams I’ve been part of has been amazing,” she said.
Lauren Wright said winning three straight state titles is amazing.
“No one in our county has ever won three straight softball crowns,” Lauren Wright said. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Lauren Wright said she had nothing to lose, and it was her last game, so she decided to dive for the softball in the fourth inning.
“I left it all on the field,” Lauren said. “On the throw home in the sixth inning, my adrenaline was rushing. I knew if they got that run, the game would be tied, and I didn’t want to go into extra innings. I just did everything I could to get us a three-peat.”
Nix said after all the injuries during the course of the season, he still knew his girls could win a third straight state title.
“We knew we had the best team in Class 1A,” Nix said. “We have been very fortunate. We have had some injuries the past three years, but they all happened at the correct time. So many times you have to be so lucky to win championships where injuries happen early in the season. The past two years everyone was healthy coming into the state tournament with the exception of this year when we were unable to get Madison Oliver back. That was a huge adjustment to make, but once we got things in place, it was just a special year.”
Nix was asked what he was thinking when catcher Lexi Goodwin went down with an injuring in the first inning of the championship game.
“I am so proud of Lexi,” Nix said. “For her to be an eighth-grader, and come in and catch Sommar like she has done is amazing. She struggled with it early in the season, but she had the grit and toughness to fight on. She really started getting very coachable toward the end of the season. When she went down with the injury, we had no choice but to put Emily Church back behind the plate. Emily has caught her entire life, and it’s like riding a bicycle. We were playing her at short because it is less strain on her knee.”
Nix said he couldn’t say enough about all of his young players who stepped up and played well.
“Callie Kay had some key hits, and Lexi Goodwin did a good job behind the plate,” Nix said. “Kassidy St. John was good at the plate and coming in off the bench to play first base, while Taylor Boswell and Carley Echols were huge for us. Destiny Gardner made some good plays at first base, and we had to move her to second when Lexi got hurt. Shyann Hazelwood is going to be a great player in the future, and she is just in the seventh grade.”
Contact Gary Hanner at firstname.lastname@example.org.