ALABASTER, ALA. – Wallace State's softball team needed five minutes Monday to put a bow on its 10thAlabama Community College Conference (ACCC)/Region 22 tournament championship.
Wallace State was three outs away from wrapping up the championship on Sunday, but a thunderstorm struck Alabaster's Veteran's Park and suspended the tournament finale vs. rival Shelton State.
Once play resumed on Monday, all it took was five minutes and a perfect top of the seventh by Wallace State freshman Jessie Butler to send the Lady Lions (48-20) to a 7-5 victory over Shelton State and to their second straight ACCC/Region 22 title and eighth in 10 seasons.
"We didn't care if we finished Sunday or Monday. We've fought through so much adversity this season, so it didn't matter to us when we played," said Wallace State sophomore Julia Dailey, who was named tournament MVP. "Whether it's softball or school, we are always there to pick each other up and have been all season. That's why we are champions."
Dailey, a Huntsville High grad, put Wallace State on her shoulders on the mound. She was the winning pitcher in two of Wallace State's four tournament wins, allowing three earned runs in 15 2/3 innings.
"Julia wasn't even pitching for us at the beginning of the season, but we were struggling and I asked her to throw. There's not a chance on this Earth we win this championship without Julia Dailey. It's amazing what she's done for us," said Wallace State interim coach Jeff Benson. "Julia does whatever we ask of her, and she's one of the best students and best kids I've ever been around in my life."
Dailey's resurgence on the mound this season personifies the roll the Lady Lions have been on since late February. Wallace State has won 42 of 49 games after beginning the season with records of 4-10 and 6-15.
Before March 29, Dailey (10-0) pitched only 10 1/3 of her 64 1/3 innings this season. Wallace State didn't miss a beat once Benson placed Dailey in the rotation.
"I'm just thankful I've had the chance to use pitching as a platform to help this team. I've wanted to help any way I can. We've been on an amazing run, and I knew we were destined for greatness," said Dailey, who also logged only 19 2/3 innings as a freshman.
A season after winning the "if" game to win its ninth league title, Wallace State went a perfect 4-0 in the tournament for the first time since 2013. The Lady Lions opened the tournament last Friday with a 4-3 victory over Central Alabama and followed it with a 4-3 victory over Snead State on Saturday morning.
In Saturday's winner's bracket game against Shelton State, Wallace State charged back from a 2-0 deficit in the first inning, scoring six unanswered runs for a 6-2 lead after four innings. Sophomore catcher Molli Garcia, an All-Tournament selection, drilled a three-run homer to cap the scoring in the three-run fourth inning, making it 6-2.
Wallace State knocked off the Lady Bucs 8-4 on Saturday as Garcia added an RBI single late in the game, and Sarah Ellen Battles had a pair of hits, including a double, and two RBIs. Karra Elam added a pair of singles.
For the third time in four seasons, Wallace State faced Shelton State in the championship game. Shelton State homered in the top of the third for an early 1-0 lead. Wallace State answered right back in the bottom of third on a two-out, RBI single by Shelby Brown, scoring Taylor Beshears.
Wallace State added a pair of runs in the bottom of third for a 3-1 lead behind a pinch-hit RBI single by Leisha Yamauchi and RBI double by Beshears.
Shelton State seized control in the top of the sixth, scoring four unearned runs for a 5-3 advantage.
Before the storm halted play on Sunday, Wallace State reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the sixth. The Lady Lions tied the game at 5-all by scoring a pair of runs on a Shelton State throwing error, and Garcia later drove in the eventual winning run with an RBI single. Wallace State added an insurance run in the frame as Ashton Gaddy scored on a RBI fielder's choice by Elam.
Wallace State closed out the championship on Monday morning as Butler retired the Shelton State batters in order. Butler (5-3) went three innings in relief to earn the victory.
Wallace State now advances to the NJCAA Division I softball championship at St. George, Utah, on May 18-21. The Lions will seek their third NJCAA Division I national championship.
"We deserved this championship. Even though we had things go wrong this season, it always put a fire under us to do better. We are a great team. I can't wait to see how we do at nationals," said Beshears, who holds the single-season school record for RBIs (83) and had seven hits and scored four runs in the tournament.
In addition to Dailey and Garcia, Battles and Beshears were also named to the All-Tournament team.
Garcia finished the tournament with a pair of homers and eight RBIs. She now leads the team with 15 homers.
Battles hit her second homer of the season in the tournament opener against Central Alabama, sparked multiple rallies throughout the tournament and played flawless defense at second base.
"I'm just glad I've been able to help the team. I worked hard in the offseason to make sure I was consistently in the lineup," Battles said.
Benson was named ACCC Coach of the Year.
"I'm just excited for the girls. They've worked hard, and the best thing about our team is some of our best leadership comes from players on the bench who are sophomores. Our best leaders aren't on the field, and that's what being a team is about. Everyone contributes in their own way," Benson said. "We are thrilled to see what we can do at the national tournament. I think we learned some lessons out there last year. We are going to be competitive out there this year and hope to be playing late in the week. The later you get in the week, the better chance you have to win."
Wallace State's sophomore class consists of Dailey, Garcia, Battles, Brown, Yamauchi, Katie Parr, Olivia Royal, Jennifer Gonzalez, Kayla Byrd, Megan Quimby, Erin Benson and Ashley Smith.
The sophomore class has been a part of 110 wins and two conference championships.
Shelton State advances to the District I Championship on May 6-7 vs. Spartanburg Methodist College (SC) from Region 10. The best of three series will be played at Central Alabama Community College with game times at 1:00 and 3:00 on May 6 and the "if" game at 11:00 am on May 7.
2016 ACCC Champions
Wallace State Lady Lions
2016 ACCC Runner-up
Shelton State Lady Bucs
Gabrielle Kespelher - Faulkner State
Ashton Gautreaux - Faulkner State
Madison Cantrell - Snead State
Shannon Summers - Snead State
Morgan Burbage - Shelton State
Kim Crowson - Shelton State
Tanner Brown - Shelton State
Taylor Beshears - Wallace State
Sarah Ellen Battles - Wallace State
Molli Garcia - Wallace State
Tournament Most Valuable Player
Julia Dailey - Wallace State