Pleasant Home’s Cailee Jernigan slides into second base during her team’s first game at the south regional tournament in Gulf Shores last week. | Andrew Garner/Star-News
The “big potato.”
That’s all Pleasant Home will be playing for at the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 1A State Softball Tournament in Montgomery this week at Lagoon Park.
On Saturday, the Lady Eagles claimed the 1A South Regional title in Gulf Shores, beating Ariton 8-2 in the championship game.
Earlier on the same day, Pleasant Home defeated top-ranked Kinston 1-0 to earn its ticket to Montgomery.
Seniors Kayla Woods and Gina Davis — who have helped the Lady Eagles make several appearances at the state tournament — said the team has already accomplished one of its goals.
“Our secondary goal was to win in Gulf Shores, but our first goal was to win state,” Woods said. “So, the only way we could accomplish our first goal was to win in Gulf Shores. We just knew we had to win.”
For the past nine seasons, PHS coach Jimmy Reeves has given each girl on the team a small potato as a way to remind the girls that “everything we had done so far was small potatoes.”
“From then on out, we were after the big tater,” Reeves said.
He said he hopes the girls bring over their success at the regional tournament to state, and one thing that he wants the girls to remain focused on at state is just to “play together.”
“I think this is the first time — in the regionals — that they’ve played together all year,” Reeves said. “I was very proud to see them do that. I hope they’ll continue to do that — just playing together.”
The Lady Eagles earned the top seed in 1A, and will face South Lamar at 9 a.m. Thursday on Field No. 1.
South Lamar finished as the runner-up last year, with PHS finishing in third place.
“They’ve been there now 2-3 three years in a row, and last year was the highest they’ve ever gone,” Reeves said about South Lamar. “They have everybody coming back, so they’ll be very strong.”
This will be Pleasant Home’s 10th consecutive appearance at the state tournament.
When asked how this year is different than the previous nine, Reeves said it’s been “harder.”
“It just seems to get harder every year,” he said. “We were not as strong this year — it’s been kind of a rebuilding year for us. We got there by the skin of our teeth.”
From a player’s stand point, Davis said the team has had to overcome a lot of “challenges.”
“We’ve had a lot more challenges this year,” Davis said. “Our regular season record isn’t so hot, but we’ve definitely kept it up the last week better than we’ve been playing this season.”
The Lady Eagles will continue to keep the same approach and will not change anything as far as on the field, Reeves said.
“We’ll go in there trying to play defense and keep it to a low-scoring game and hopefully scratch a couple runs across the plate, and hold the other team to zero or one or two runs and maybe have a chance,” he said. “We think we’ve finally got our best defense on the field.”
As far as who will be starting Thursday, Reeves said he will keep the defense where it has been recently.
“There have been several players that have stepped up for us,” he said. “Our best defense is with Emily Byrd on the mound. The ones that have changed positions is Cailee Jernigan, who moved from third base to shortstop, and has done a great job for us. Kayla Woods has moved from left field to third base, and has done a great job there.
“Maybe the most important one is Jordan McGee moving to first base (from catcher),” he said. “She’s stabalized our infield by moving over there.”
In addition, Ashley Copeland will stay in at catcher.
The only way that Pleasant Home has been able to make it this far is through players stepping up and taking over positions that had been vacated due to injuries, Reeves said.
“These girls have overcome a tremendous amount of adversity,” Reeves said. “Probably more adversity I’m sure than any other team we’ve had.”
Woods said the one thing the team needs to do well at the state tournament is to “stay focused.”
“And don’t underestimate the opponent,” Woods said. “We’re going to go out there and show them what we can do.”
Davis said she agrees with Woods.
“We’re going to go in there, and treat them like any other team and take care of business,” she said.