Home run trot

Handley first baseman Bri Watkins trots home after a two-run home run in Handley's season-saving win over Cleburne County last Thursday. Watkins could be a key player for Handley in this week's regional in Tuscaloosa.

Eight teams go in, only two come out. One team will go undefeated. One team will only lose once. The other six will go home.

Those are the cold, hard facts of regional softball, and RCHS and Handley will do everything in their power to be one of those two teams that survive and advance to the state tournament.

Here’s a look at both regionals and what to expect when the action begins Thursday in Oxford and Tuscaloosa.

And remember, if you can't make to Tuscaloosa or Oxford to them in person, you can listen live to all the regional games on iSchoolSportsNetwork.com.

Class 3A East Central Regional, Oxford

Teams in the tournament: Hale County, Pike County, Beulah, St. James, Pike Road, Gordo, Prattville Christian, RCHS

First game for RCHS: 9 a.m. Thursday, vs. Prattville Christian

Team to beat: Prattville Christian (39-7-1)

Prattville Christian enters the tournament as the No. 1 team in the state, according to the ASWA. And if you take a quick glance down their schedule you’ll see why. In 36 of their 39 wins, the Lady Panthers have allowed two or fewer runs. That’s largely due to the handiwork of sophomore pitcher Landyn McAnnally, who has posted a 17-2 record and a 0.72 ERA this season. This is RCHS’s opening opponent in the tournament, so we’ll find out right away how the Lady Tigers stack up against the favorites.

Also in the hunt: Hale County (25-17), St. James (24-12)

A potential second-round game between these two teams could end up being one of the regional’s most pivotal games.

Where RCHS fits in: On the surface RCHS (21-16) looks like a middle of the pack team in this regional. The Lady Tigers can hit, but they don’t have that one dominant pitcher that is going to blaze a path through the tournament. It’s also a tough break having to play what may be the best team in the tournament in the first game, as losing the first game means you have to win four in a row to navigate your way through the loser’s bracket.

Players to watch: Seniors Christa Marable, Zoe Johnson, Nia Green and Keisley Cotton are the heart and soul of this team, and they’ll be motivated to prolong their final season with the Lady Tigers. Also, get used to hearing the names Talee Sims and Brantlee Wortham, a pair of seventh graders who have been two of the team’s best four hitters average-wise all season and will be a big part of the growth of this program for years to come.

Predictions

Two teams that will go 0-2: Pike County, Gordo

Two teams that will go 1-2: RCHS, Pike Road

Team that will go 2-2: Beulah

Team that will go 3-2: Hale County

Qualifiers: St. James, Prattville Christian

Class 4A West Central Regional, Tuscaloosa

Teams in the tournament: Good Hope, Handley, Cordova, Hokes Bluff, Lincoln, Ashville, White Plains, Curry

First game for Handley: 10:30 a.m. Thursday vs. Good Hope

Team to beat: Take your pick. There’s no clear-cut favorite, but White Plains (No. 4) and Good Hope (No. 7) are ranked in the ASWA’s state top 10, as is Curry (No. 9). You can’t sleep on Cordova, which just beat Curry twice in their area tournament. And we haven’t even mentioned Lincoln, which owns the most wins (35) of any team in the regional.

Where Handley fits in: Handley (11-16) is going to be the decided underdog in this tournament, which is a new position for the Lady Tigers after years of entering the regional with real hopes of advancing to state. That’s life when you’re tasked with replacing six of the most decorated seniors in program history, and your most-used pitcher is a seventh grader.

The silver lining for Handley is that the draw sets up somewhat favorably. With potential loser’s bracket matchups with Hokes Bluff and Lincoln (which Handley beat twice during the regular season), it’s not a stretch to see a way in which the Lady Tigers last until the second day of the tournament. But no matter what happens for Handley in Tuscaloosa, this regional will be a big step in the development of a rebuilding program.

Players to watch: The aforementioned seventh grader, left-handed pitcher Mariana Whaley has a bright future and will get her first experience in the increased intensity of a regional. It most certainly won’t be her last. Also, junior first baseman Bri Watkins is hitting .300 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI. She hit two home runs in the season-saving rally against Cleburne County in the area tournament, and when she gets a hold of one it’s a thing of beauty.

Predictions

Two teams that will go 0-2: Hokes Bluff, Ashville

Two teams that will go 1-2: Lincoln, Cordova

Team that will go 2-2: Handley

Team that will go 3-2: Curry

Qualifiers: Good Hope, White Plains

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