ALABASTER, ALA. – Keeli Bobbitt has jump-started Wallace State softball's offense from the leadoff spot all season.
Once she hit her first collegiate home run leading off Sunday's Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC)/Region 22 Tournament championship game, the Lions had a strong feeling it was going to be a profitable day.
Indeed, it was. Wallace State's softball team captured its fourth consecutive ACCC Tournament championship and 12th overall in the program's history at Veterans Park in Alabaster with an 8-3 victory over Central Alabama. The top-seeded Lions (46-11) finished the three-day event with a perfect mark, extending their winning streak to 18 games.
Bobbitt, one of 15 freshmen on the roster, finished the title game with a pair of hits and three RBIs, capping the scoring with a two-run single for late insurance runs. Bobbitt, an outfielder from Lamar County High, was named the Tournament MVP. She scored runs in all four games for Wallace State and added six RBIs.
"It felt great to get the game started off big. I surely wasn't expecting a home run. As always, I just wanted to get on base and put pressure on the defense," said Bobbitt, who entered the tournament hitting a team-best .432. "This is so exciting. I've never been a part of a championship like this."
Bobbitt's early homer allowed Wallace State freshman pitcher Meagan Schwieterman to settle in.
"We knew Keeli's homer was gone right away. It helped us relax and come out on top," Schwieterman said.
Schwieterman, an All-Tournament selection, earned three victories on the mound in the tournament, including tossing a complete game on Sunday. Thefreshman from Guntersville improved to 23-6 on the season.
"This is an incredible feeling and nothing like I've experienced on a softball field. I can't wait to get to Utah for nationals," Schwieterman said.
With its fourth straight championship, Wallace State heads to the NJCAA Division I softball championship in St. George, Utah, on May 16-19. It's the fourth straight national tournament appearance for Wallace State and 12th overall. The Lions have won two NJCAA Division I national championships (2013, 2008).
Wallace State opened the ACCC Tournament with a 6-2 win over Marion Military Institute on Friday. The Lions prevailed 6-5 over Coastal Alabama-South in Saturday's winner's bracket game before registering a 5-2 victory over Central Alabama on Saturday night.
The Lions met the Lady Trojans again in Sunday's championship and quickly grabbed an edge on Bobbitt's home run.
After adding a run in the second, Wallace State pushed its advantage to 6-1 in the third inning on a three-run triple by Sidney Edwards and a Tanner Robertson RBI single.
Central Alabama scored a pair of runs on a two-run homer in the fifth, but a Bobbitt two-run single in the bottom of the inning earned those runs right back.
Schweiterman pitched a perfect seventh to seal the championship, marking the 33rd win in 34 games for Wallace State. The Lions have lost one game since March 8.
"We didn't play our best this weekend, but we knew we didn't have to do anything extraordinary in the championship game. Even though I felt we had some butterflies on Friday, we wanted to go out and do us. All we needed to do was make the routine plays, throw strikes and put together good at bats," said Wallace State second-year coach A.J. Daugherty. "I could sense when we walked into the park that we were ready to play. I could tell our players were hungry and you could see our confidence brewing as the tournament progressed. They took care of business, and I'm proud of that."
Despite their lofty record and hot streak entering the tournament, the Lions felt a bit slighted as they arrived in Alabaster.
"The word and rumor was we weren't as good as Wallace State has been. We took that as a challenge and played with a chip on our shoulder," Daugherty said. "I'm not sure we are loaded with the most talent, but we're about Wallace State. We are all on board to do whatever it takes to win. It takes everyone buying in from the six sophomores to our freshmen. We had the only sophomores in the park who knew what it took to win a conference championship."
Sophomores Tanner Robertson and Caroline Burns joined Bobbitt and Schweiterman on the All-Tournament team.
Burns, a transfer from UAH, settled into the middle of the lineup in early March and never relinquished a spot in the order. She had the go-ahead two-run single in Saturday's win over Central Alabama.
"I knew I wanted to be out there and did everything I could to take advantage of the opportunity. It's great to know all of our hard work paid off in the end," Burns said.
Fellow sophomore Charlee West slugged a pair of homers among the four tournament wins, helping earn her second championship in a Wallace State uniform.
"This one is a bit more special because I'm a sophomore, and it's my last year here. We only had five returners, and we did our best to lead the freshmen and calm them down early in the season when we weren't playing great," said West, a Prattville native. "For whatever reason, people doubted us here this weekend. We didn't let it bother us. We just tried to prove ourselves.
Jodie Farnetti, Madison Grant and Taylor Stalnaker are also among the sophomores.
Daugherty also credited assistant coach Sallie Beth Burch for her efforts in helping the 15 freshman mature throughout the course of the season. Burch was a key player on the first Wallace State team to win a national crown in 2008.
"I'm so grateful for Sallie's Beth's help. She's a huge part of our success. We wouldn't be here without her," Daugherty said.
Keeli Bobbitt - Wallace State - Most Valuable Player
Meagan Schwieterman - Wallace State
Tanner Robertson - Wallace State
Caroline Burns - Wallace State
Amber Parker - Central Alabama
Sierra Easterwood - Central Alabama
Shatima Smith - Central Alabama
Makaila Aday - Calhoun
Sydnee Uhlman - Calhoun
Savannah Rowell - Coastal-South
Britany Davison - Coastal-South
Keeli Bobbitt - Wallace State - Tournament Most Valuble Player