Losing the first game of the area tournament is never a good omen. Especially when that loss is a 1-0 decision in which the only run scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the seventh inning.

That’s the situation that Handley found itself in during last week’s 4A, Area 9 tournament before the Lady Tigers bounced back for two season-saving wins to finish as the area runner-up and advance to the West Central Regional in Tuscaloosa.

That excruciating 1-0 loss came at the hands of Cleburne County last Tuesday in a game in which starting pitcher Mariana Whaley allowed just two hits and recorded five strikeouts. Unfortunately, Handley’s bats were just as silent as Heflin’s, as singles by Grace Rittenhouse and Alyssa Bickers were the team’s only hits in the contest.

It was Handley’s third straight loss to Cleburne County this season, and those three losses came by a total of four runs. But Handley would soon exact its revenge at the most crucial time.

The Lady Tigers bounced back from that tournament opening loss to paste Talladega 13-0 in Tuesday’s elimination game. That set up a Thursday rematch with Heflin, with the winner advancing to the area championship and earning a spot in the regional, and the loser seeing its season come to an end.

For much of Thursday’s game it looked as if Handley would be on the wrong end of that deal, but junior first baseman Bri Watkins almost single-handedly made sure that would not be the case.

Handley fell behind 3-0 in the early innings, but got on the board with an RBI double by Jessi Gosdin before Watkins tied it with a two-run home run in the bottom of the third.

Cleburne County wasted no time getting those three runs back in the fourth and carried a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the sixth.

That’s when Gosdin and Watkins once again sparked the Handley offense to life as Gosdin led off with a single and Watkins crushed another two-run home run to cut the lead to 6-5.

A double by Cassie Smith and a bunt single and a stolen base by Whaley then put runners on second and third with nobody out. That set the stage for Alyssa Bickers, who doubled to drive both runs home and put Handley ahead for the first time in the contest.

Smith got the final three outs in the seventh to secure the win and extend Handley’s season. She got the win with three scoreless innings in relief of Whaley.

Watkins was perfect at the plate as she went 2-for-2 with a walk and drove home four runs. Gosdin was perfect as well after her 3-for-3 showing that included an RBI and two runs scored.

Handley lost to Lincoln 14-0 in Friday’s championship round, so the Lady Tigers finished as the area runners up.

They will take on Good Hope in the first round of the West Central Regional in Tuscaloosa Thursday at 10:30 a.m. A live radio broadcast of that game and all of Handley’s regional tournament games can be heard on iSchoolSportsNetwork.com.

RCHS

RCHS went 2-2 in its area tournament last week in Wedowee, but those two wins were enough to give the Lady Tigers runner up status in the area and a spot in this week’s East Central Regional in Oxford.

RCHS opened the area tournament last Tuesday with a 10-0 win over B.B. Comer in five innings. Katie Pike was masterful in the circle in that one as she allowed just one hit over five innings and recorded four strikeouts.

That set up a winner’s bracket showdown against Beulah Wednesday, which RCHS lost 9-4. Beulah scored six runs in the first inning and two more in the second to build an 8-2 lead, and RCHS never mustered a serious comeback threat.

Zoe Johnson went 3-for-4 with an RBI, and Talee Sims and Kaylee Robinson had two hits apiece for RCHS in the loss.

That result put RCHS in an elimination game against Dadeville to decide which team would keep its season alive and which team would go home.

RCHS trailed 1-0 through the first three innings before exploding for seven runs in the fourth. That was enough to send the Lady Tigers to an 8-4 win and assure them of a spot in the regional.

RCHS needed just four hits in that 7-run inning as Dadeville aided the rally with three errors, a walk and a hit batter.

Pike was sharp in the circle once again as she pitched another complete game and allowed just one earned run on seven hits.

RCHS lost to Beulah 5-4 in the championship round of the area tournament after Beulah scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to take top honors in the area.

RCHS will begin play in the East Central Regional at Choccolocco Park in Oxford Thursday at 9 a.m. against Prattville Christian. All of RCHS’s games in the regional will be broadcast live on iSchoolSportsNetwork.com.

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