By Blake Ells
While Spain Park’s season didn’t end the way the Jaguars had hoped, accolades continue to roll in for freshman pitcher Annabelle Widra.
After breaking her own school record with 264 strikeouts this season, she is Over the Mountain Journal’s Player of the Year.
“My older brother has a great work ethic, and I feel like I’ve gotten that from him,” she said. Her brother, Tristan, won a state championship with Spain Park’s baseball team in 2014 and now plays for Samford University. “I think travel ball has also helped me a lot.”
She began playing softball with the Birmingham Thunderbolts travel team at the age of 12, when she was surrounded by 18-year-olds. Facing the region’s best talent at a young age helped propel her to what already has been a stellar high school career, a career that has three years remaining in it.
This season, Widra posted a 23-8 record as a starter and added six saves. She recorded 10 shutouts and had a no-hitter. She helped her own cause, batting .453 and adding a school record 38 steals.
“I give a lot of credit to my pitching coach,” Widra said. Kerri Foster has been privately coaching Widra since the age of 8. “Not only do we work on how to pitch, we work on the mental side. And a lot of credit goes to my dad; my dad has helped me a lot. Setting the record is just going to push me harder next year and the next three years. I just want to get better.”
Named OTMJ’s Coach of the Year this season, C.J. Hawkins also has played a major role in Widra’s development and the success of Spain Park’s program.
“She’s fun to be around,” said Widra. “She loves to put a smile on all of our faces. She pumps us up and she’s always there for us. She’s very, very important to this program.”
Widra already is committed to play college softball for Kenny Gajewski at Oklahoma State. “Coach G” has had his eye on Widra’s talent for a long time.
“It was a really long process, and it was really stressful at the end,” she said. “But I’ve known Coach G since I was 11. When he moved to Oklahoma State, he asked me to come up there, and I’ve been building a good relationship with him. He’s a great guy and a great coach. Oklahoma State is beautiful. It’s a beautiful campus, and I felt like that was a good decision for me.”
There were no seniors on this year’s team, which fell to Fairhope in two games at the state championship in Montgomery. There’s cause for high expectations as these girls return.
“I expect us to be back in the state finals,” Widra said. “No one’s leaving. I think the way that it ended, it’s just going to motivate us more to win it. We came up short this year and two years ago, my eighth-grade year. I think that’s just going to motivate us (to) want to get back there and to win it.
“Our upcoming seniors are going to really want it. I want it. This will push us and give us the drive to get back.” ❖
All-OTM Softball Team
First Base: Caroline Wooley, Spain Park
Second Base: Pepper Nichols, Hoover; and Lindsay Best, Mountain Brook.
Third Base: Alexis Anderson, Spain Park; and Maddie Katona, Oak Mountain.
Shortstop: Merritt Cahoon, Vestavia Hills; and Bailey Bowers, Spain Park.
Catcher: Lindsay Parker, Spain Park; Gwynnie Hornibrook, Vestavia Hills; Devon Grace Boyd, John Carroll; and Cassidy Greenwood, Oak Mountain.
Pitcher: Macey Ogle, John Carroll; Annabelle Widra, Spain Park; Kate Campbell, Spain Park; and Lacy Marty, Oak Mountain.
Outfield: Maddie Majors, Spain Park; Harper Niblet, Hoover; and Emma Bauer, John Carroll.
Designated Hitter: Torie Denkers, Oak Mountain
Player of the Year: Annabelle Widra, Spain Park
Coach of the Year: C.J. Hawkins, Spain Park