North Alabama Crusaders win USSSA 16-under state title

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GOOD HOPE – Six state championships were earned during the weekend in the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA) Class C Softball State Tournament.

One piece of championship hardware will remain in Cullman. In the oldest age division, the 16-under, the North Alabama Crusaders overcome tough competition and the weather to be the best in this class at the Good Hope Municipal Complex.

The weather factored into the situation. A strong thunderstorm arrived at the ball park with lightning seen by the umpires at 7:18 p.m.

The Crusaders and their opponent, the Rage from Falkville, headed to their respective dugouts for safety purposes.

By 7:30 p.m., the rain had arrived and soaked the complex. Water was standing on the outfield when the tournament was halted by the USSSA after discussing the field conditions with Good Hope Parks and Recreation Director Dana Dunagan.

The Crusaders were declared the 16-under state champions.

Staying undefeated in tournament play, the Crusaders did that. They defeated Torque Fastpitch 1-0 and followed it with a 9-1 domination of the Fultondale Blast in the semifinal round of the winner's bracket.

Then it was time to face the Rage, who came into this tournament as an actual 14-under, playing in an older division. The Rage ran through pool play without a loss and had controlled the Heatwave and Tuscumbia Slammerz by scores of 8-0 and 9-2.

The winner's final was one of the best games at the complex all weekend. The Crusaders took a 2-0 lead, only to have the Rage get some runs on a pair of bloop singles and move in front 3-2.

Then the Crusaders rallied with a two-out double in their next to last appearance at the plate and had a 4-3 lead with one inning left and time about to run out in this format of an hour and 15 minutes per game.

A run was produced by the Rage to get the score even at 4-4. Then the Crusaders got out of the inning and came to bat with a chance to end the contest if they scored a run.

After one out, the Crusaders got a single to right then the next batter hit the ball hard to left field. It would not be handled cleanly by the left fielder, as the runner dashed home from first and the Crusaders were on the cusp of winning the USSSA title.

The Rage bounced back in the finals of the loser's bracket to down the Slammerz 4-2. They broke a scoreless tie in the third and held off a late comeback by the Slammerz to earn a berth into the championship round.

By that time, a storm was coming into South Cullman County from Morgan County. As the game began after 7 p.m., the Rage was batting in the top of the first when lightning could be seen by everyone from up above Interstate 65.

The umpires called time and asked for the teams to quickly move to safety.

That would be the last time this state tournament would see action as heavy rains arrived and the complex was completely saturated.

In total, 100 teams played in this USSSA State Tournament at five ball parks across four cities in the county this weekend.

The 14-under was held at C.W. Day Park in Hanceville, the 12-under took place at the Vinemont Sports Complex, the 10-under enjoyed Cullman's Heritage Park and the 8-under open and 8-under B division participated at the Field of Miracles.

As the storm passed through the area Sunday evening, Crossfire, a squad that had West Point players on its roster, was in the finals of the loser's bracket in the 14-under when the tournament was stopped.

They had eliminated the Hot Shots earlier in the day 3-1. Half of the Hot Shots were from Cold Springs and coached by Lady Eagles' assistant coach Brendan Voce.

These two had the best opportunity in making deep runs into the tournament while other local teams were eliminated immediately in the 8-under and 10-under when the format went from pool play to double elimination.