No. 3 Wallace State softball wins program’s 14th ACCC Tournament championship, moves to 54-2 this season

By:
356
0
Wallace State celebrates its ACCC Tournament Title in Alabaster Sunday. (WSCC Athletics)

ALABASTER, Ala. – Wallace State’s softball program has secured another Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) Tournament championship.

The third-ranked Lions blasted three home runs over the opening three innings at Alabaster’s Veterans Park on Sunday, and pitcher Leigha Kirby twirled her second shutout against Snead State in consecutive days, propelling Wallace State to its 14th ACCC Tournament championship, second straight and fourth in six seasons.  

Wallace State softball, which spent four weeks this season as the No. 1 team in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I ranks, outscored its tournament opponents 30-1 in four impressive victories, improving to 54-2. The four tournament wins mirrored the dominance the Lions have showcased all season.

“It’s not winning this championship that’s the challenge. It’s staying on top. I’m proud our players haven’t worried about our national ranking, record, or what others are saying. The team has continued to push forward, demonstrating a strong desire to get better and better,” said Wallace State coach A.J. Daugherty, who has led the program to four tournament championships in six seasons. “We’ve got to continue to improve if we want to win a national championship. We don’t want this to be the finished product.”

Daugherty, who was named the 2022 ACCC Coach of the Year, and the Lions now advance to the NJCAA Division I Softball Championship in Yuma, Ariz., on May 24-28. They’ll seek the program’s third national title.

Wallace State’s starting pitching trio of Kirby, Josie Thompson and Bailee Hall has been among the team’s intriguing storylines this season, each entering the tournament with ERAs under 1.05 and being named to the ACCC 1st-team All-Battery.

Nothing changed in Alabaster. Thompson and Hall each earned wins on Friday and Saturday respectively, and Kirby relished the chance to close out the tournament, tossing a one-hit, 4-0, shutout against Snead State in Saturday’s semifinal game before turning around less than 24 hours later and blanking the Parsons again in an 8-0 triumph.

Kirby, a Pisgah native and sophomore transfer, was named the ACCC Tournament MVP and the ACCC/NJCAA Region 22 Pitcher of the Year.

“It’s been awesome to be a part of this team. The chemistry here is unlike anything I’ve experienced. Our pitching staff feeds off each other. No one wants to let the team down,” said Kirby, who transferred to Wallace State from Chipola College. “I’m thrilled we’ve crossed off one of our goals. We’ve got more work to do.”

Added Daugherty: “Our pitching staff has anchored us all season. Coach (Carson) Owens has done a great job prepping and developing the staff. Our pitching has been there when the offense has experienced ebbs and flows.”

Sophomore Gracie Benton sparked the lineup in Sunday’s title game, leading off the second inning with a home run. Jaiden Farnetti added a two-run shot later in the frame for a 3-0 lead, and Maddie Carton drilled a two-run blast in the third for a 5-0 cushion.

Rylie Moody delivered the clinching hit with a two-run single, sending home the winning runs in a five-inning shortened tilt.

Benton and Farnetti were each named to the ACCC All-Tournament team for the second straight year. Benton was the ACCC Tournament MVP in 2021.

Jessica Edde, Wallace State’s steady presence at catcher, was also an ACCC Tournament selection.

Cartron’s homer was her 20th of the season. The Hazel Green native and sophomore is the program’s all-time career home run leader.

 “Our lineup has been focusing on hitting line drives and ground balls. The homers are bonus if they come,” Cartron said. “Winning another conference championship is one of the absolute best feelings you can have. This has been my family for two years. We want more though. If we stay calm and focused at nationals, good things can happen.”

Wallace State outfielders Felicity Frame and Harper Niblett have been the team’s table setters this season.

Frame was named the ACCC/NJCAA Region 22 Player of the Year after leading the conference in batting average (.509), runs scored (64) and stolen bases (59) prior to the conference tournament. She added 82 hits before the postseason.

After serving as a role player last season, Niblett was second in the ACCC with a .487 average, adding 51 runs scored and 38 stolen bases prior to the weekend. She’s a 1st-team All-ACCC selection.

“I was always taught the importance of perseverance growing up. Things aren’t always going to go your way. I could have taken the easy path out. Instead, I chose to work hard, and coach Daugherty and coach (Cadi) Oliver believed in me. It means a lot to play a bigger role this season,” Niblett said. “Like coach Daugherty says, pressure is a privilege. Everyone is going to give us their best shot and we continue to respond. That’s what it’s like at Wallace State. It’s much more rewarding knowing you’re the best.”

Olivia Ball and Lillyanna Cartee added RBI hits for Wallace State throughout the tournament.

Wallace State softball earned the sixth ACCC championship for the college this academic year, joining both cross country teams, volleyball, women’s golf and men’s tennis.

Players rounding out the Wallace State roster are Abigail Waters, Abigail Bryars, Sarah Beth Brake, Shelby Hobson, Bailey Tatum, Hannah Duncan, Gracie Ashley, Lauren Dill, Amity Cooper and Alivia Walken.

Savannah Mims and Brylan Rice are the managers.

For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit www.athletics.wallacestate.edu or the athletics Facebook page at www.wallacestate.edu/athleticsfb.