By Rubin E. Grant
Perhaps no high school team in the state was more disappointed to see the spring sports seasons suspended than the Spain Park softball team.
The Jaguars are off to 21-0 start, ranked No. 1 in Class 7A and No. 4 nationally by USA Today, but their season has been interrupted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hoover City Schools announced Saturday that schools would be closed at least from March 16 to April 6.
Last Friday, Steve Savarese, executive director of the AHSAA, wrote in a memo to schools that athletic contests, practices, weightlifting and conditioning are all suspended after Tuesday. He wrote that the AHSAA would re-evaluate health conditions and determine the status of spring sports championship play after schools re-open.
“I’m thrilled they used the word suspended instead of canceled,” Spain Park softball coach C.J. Urse Hawkins said. “We’re praying this settles down and gets under control. But people’s health and well-being is more important than softball. It’s something everybody is dealing with.”
The season suspension comes with Hawkins needing one more victory to reach 900 for her career. Last weekend, Spain Park won its fourth consecutive tournament this season, going 5-0 to win the Dothan High School Terry Collins Memorial Classic.
“We treated the weekend like it was our last (games) this season,” Hawkins said. “I’m grateful we got the weekend to play. I had a great time with our girls.”
The prior weekend, the Jags went 6-0 to win its own Spain Park Jaguar Classic. The 21-0 start is the second-best start in school history. The Jags opened the 2017 season with 22 straight victories.
“I’m not really surprised,” senior third baseman Alexis Anderson said. “We have good team chemistry, a lot of young talent and a lot of experienced talent, and we’re all coming together.”
What has fueled the Jags this season is a disappointing and disheartening end to the 2019 season. Spain Park reached the state tournament for the fourth consecutive year but was ousted by eventual Class 7A champion Hewitt-Trussville in an elimination game in the second round.
The Jags had beaten the Huskies five times before their meeting in the state tournament.
“It wasn’t what we were predicting,” Anderson said. “It upset us a lot. It also taught us that every game counts and you have to give it your all every game.”
The Jags are doing just that this season. They have gotten contributions up and down their lineup.
“We lost a lot of good players from last season,” Hawkins said. “We had five seniors who graduated, but we have a great senior class and a great junior class this year.
“We’ve got a nice blend of players and they’re healthy. If we stay healthy and do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll have a chance to win state.”
The Jags feature junior pitcher-infielder Annabelle Widra, who has committed to Michigan, and junior center fielder Lydia Coleman, who has committed to Penn State.
Widra is one of the top players in the nation. As a sophomore in 2019, she was named a first team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. This season, going into the Dothan tournament, Widra was 6-0 with a 0.54 earned run average, recording 52 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched while allowing only 11 hits and two walks. She also was batting .486 with seven home runs, 17 RBIs, 23 runs and 11 steals.
“She’s the real deal, a dual-threat player who can play shortstop, second base, outfield and pitch,” Hawkins said. “She was one my two All-Americans last year along with Maddie Majors, who’s now at Auburn.”
Coleman was named to the All-South Region Team by NFCA last season. She was batting .464 before the Dothan tournament.
Anderson was leading the team with a .571 average and 23 RBIs. She’s being recruited by Jacksonville State, among others. She’s one of the Jags’ four seniors, including second baseman Taylor Harrington, first baseman Lindsay Parker and right fielder MacKenzie Thompson.
Another standout junior is designated hitter Chloe Brittain, who was second on the team in home runs with five.
The Jags have some solid younger players, such as shortstop Katie Flannery, who recently joined the team after helping the basketball team win the Class 7A title; freshman pitcher Ella Reed, who had a 9-0 record with a 0.50 ERA; and eighth-grade catcher Maggie Daniel.
“We’ve got a couple of good pitchers and big sticks,” Hawkins said. “We have a couple of young kids coming along.
“They like each other, work hard and we’ve got great chemistry. Our coaching staff is very good. Kyndall White, who played for me at Clay-Chalkville and at Auburn, has joined as an assistant and Johnny Camp is our pitching coach.”
Now, the Jags just hope the season resumes and they can continue their quest for their first state championship.
“This is one of the most talented teams I’ve been on and our new assistant coach, coach White, is amazing,” Anderson said. “If we hit the ball, play good defense and pitch well, the mentality is there and physically we have the talent to win state.”