By Lee Davis
As Annabelle Widra chalks up one victory after another as the starting pitcher for Spain Park’s highly ranked softball team, there’s just one problem: She really doesn’t know her way around the school very well.
“I’ve only been in the school a few times – when my brother was going there,” she said. “I’d probably get lost if I had to find a classroom there.”
Widra’s lack of knowledge of Spain Park’s hallways is understandable. She doesn’t attend school there. Instead, Widra is a student at nearby Berry Middle School, where she is soon to complete the eighth grade.
Words such as “prodigy” and “wunderkind” have been used to describe Widra, and they are accurate. Her numbers in 2017 have been mind-boggling, particularly coming from a girl who is still a year away from getting her learner’s permit.
Through last Saturday, Widra had compiled a 28-3 record with 223 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.54. With her bat, Widra hits a hefty .434 with 43 hits and 18 RBIs. This past weekend saw her throw a no-hit shutout against Central-Phenix City.
Even as a seventh-grader last season, Widra was an impact pitcher with a record of 12-5, an ERA of 1.95 and 118 strikeouts.
“One of my goals is to get 500 strikeouts,” she said. A right-hander, she plays shortstop or second base when not in the pitching circle.
Widra’s path to stardom began as a 6-year old, when she would follow her older brother Tristan to the ball park. Her athleticism is in her genes. Tristan led Spain Park’s baseball team to a state championship in 2014 and is now an ace pitcher at Samford University.
“I loved being at the ball park, watching my brother,” Widra said. “I knew then that I wanted to be a ball player.”
She immediately excelled in club and travel ball, and by seventh grade, it was apparent that Widra was ready for the varsity – at Spain Park, not Berry Middle School.
Widra said that, although she was barely a teenager when she joined the talented team led by 16- and 17-year-olds, there were no issues of transition or resentment from the older players.
“It really wasn’t much of an adjustment,” Widra recalled. “I already knew a lot of the girls on the varsity from watching them play and practiced with them twice a week, so it wasn’t a big deal at all.”
Teammates and opposing batters immediately became aware of Widra’s dangerous curve ball, the best pitch in her arsenal. “Facing batters is the same whether it’s travel ball or varsity,” she said. “I like to get ahead in the count early and have the confidence that I’ve got a great group of players backing me up.”
Widra’s best moment of the season may have come in March, when she hurled a 7-0 no-hit shutout against powerful Sparkman in the Jaguar Classic. Along the way, she struck out seven Senator batters.
“Sparkman always has a good team, so anytime you do well against them, it’s special,” she said.
Widra may be young, but she fully understands what’s expected at Spain Park, which has become one of the Southeast’s top programs since C.J. Hawkins took over as coach nearly a decade ago.
“We’ve been really successful because we’re all working hard and playing together,” she said. “If one player struggles, there’s always someone there to pick them up. We all want to win the (state championship) trophy with the blue map.”
While a college softball career is clearly on her long-term radar, Widra has plenty to look forward to over the next four years.
“I want to improve and be the best I can be,” she said. “Mainly though, I want to help the team win.”
Widra will have to make at least one adjustment next season. As a ninth-grader, she will move over to the high school to attend classes.
“There won’t be anything different other than that,” she said, laughing. “I guess I’ll finally have to learn my way around the school.”
Annabelle Widra may not know her way around Spain Park yet, but even in the hustle and bustle of the first day of high school, there’s no way her softball talents are ever going to get lost in the shuffle.