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Segrest wins another title

By Tim Gayle

After blowing a four-run lead in the top of the seventh, Edgewood Academy coach Mark Segrest knew his team would have to find a way to beat Glenwood School in extra innings.

There was always a second game to be played if the Gators won the first game in the AISA Class AAA state finals, but Segrest didn’t want to take that chance.

“I did not want to play the ‘if’ game at all,” Segrest said. “They would have had all the momentum and they’re the defending state champions for a reason. We got it done when we needed to get it done.”

Glenwood had won seven state championships in the last 10 years, including the last three, and had beaten Edgewood all four times the two teams had played leading up to the state tournament. After knocking Glenwood to the deck with a 14-6 win in the winner’s bracket finals earlier in the day, the last thing Segrest wanted was another game with the perennial title contender.

The first-year coach got his wish when Emma Brown singled in a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth, allowing Edgewood to rally past Glenwood 8-7 to give the Wildcats the AAA title on Saturday afternoon at Lagoon Park Softball Complex.

“It means so much to us,” said tournament most valuable player Haylee Brown. “We’ve worked so hard all year. He told us we needed to work hard and keep going and keep pushing. Even if we did lose to them sometimes, he told us to keep our faith and never give up.”

The rags-to-riches story caps a remarkable return to glory for the Wildcats, which had previously won state titles in 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2014. After the last championship, head coach Fawn Sims left Edgewood for Pike Liberal, starting a revolving door of coaches that included Britt Wilkerson, Chris George and Segrest in a three-year span after Segrest was forced to take over in the middle of the 2017 season.

As it turned out, the last hire might have been the ideal choice. Segrest, after all, had won championships as a baseball player for Ronnie Baynes at Tallassee High in 1989 and 1990 and was well versed on softball through the travel ball circuit.

“I came from the baseball side of things,” Segrest said. “Then I started having daughters and have been coaching travel ball for years. I’m not the easiest guy to play for. I’m very demanding, but I love them. We had some good athletes, the mentality just needed to be refined. I’m the fourth or fifth coach the senior class has had. They bought in … and it just culminated with today.

“What you have to do is believe in your philosophy. It’s not for everybody, but stick with what has worked over the years. Fortunately, these girls are high-character kids. It was a little rough to start with and any time you have change you have some of that. But they were hungry to win and as they got better fundamentally, they could see it was paying off.”

By the time the Wildcats rolled into the state tournament on Friday, they were clicking on all cylinders. They dismantled Northside 15-0 in quick fashion, scoring four runs in the first inning, five in the second and six in the third to end the game on the 15-run mercy rule. Madison White went 3 for 3, Kelley Green went 2 for 3 and Haylee Brown reached base three times and scored each time.

Later in the day, Edgewood demolished Springwood 12-5 with a five-run first inning featuring doubles by Haylee Brown, Grayson Laney and White and a home run by Peyton Rodie, one of the three seniors on the team.

That set up the monumental clash with Glenwood in the winner’s bracket finals on Saturday morning. Haylee Brown hit a two-run home run in the first inning, another two-run homer in the second and yet another two-run homer in the sixth. Kallie Johnson, another senior, had a solo home run in the fourth.
The bruised a battered Gators came back through the loser’s bracket, beating Bessemer 5-3 as Kayson Boatner hit her 30th and 31st home runs of the season, proving Glenwood was still Glenwood.

And when they scored four runs in the seventh inning of the championship game, they showed that championship character that had surfaced so many times in the last decade. Mae Durham led off the rally with a single and capped it by driving in the tying run in the top of the seventh to force extra innings.

“It was kind of crazy because we were up so big and then it slowly faded,” Haylee Brown said, “and then it came back. But we had it all the way.”

In the eighth, Hope Gullatt’s RBI single gave Glenwood a 7-6 lead but a diving grab by Johnson in left field kept the Wildcats within striking distance. In the bottom half of the inning, the Wildcats showed how hard work and determination can pay off.

“We played the best at the end of the year,” Segrest said. “Glenwood had beaten us four times this year and they had busted us inside with a lot of fastballs. This past week, we worked a lot on learning to hit the inside fastball more effectively and it just paid off for us.”

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