ALABASTER, ALA. – Tanner Robertson's first home run of the season propelled Wallace State's softball program to another Alabama Community College Conference/Region 22 championship on Monday.
Robertson's leadoff solo jack in the eighth inning sent Wallace State to an 8-7 come-from-behind victory over Snead State in the championship game, capturing a third consecutive ACCC tournament title for the Lions and 11th in program history.
Wallace State (39-16) went undefeated in four tournament games, securing the championship on Monday after play was suspended in the fourth inning on Sunday afternoon.
It was well worth the wait for Robertson, first-year coach A.J. Daugherty and the entire program.
"This means everything. I love this team and I can't wait to get to Utah (for the national tournament). I've never been part of something as cool as this," said Robertson, a Huntsville native. "I wasn't thinking about hitting a home run in that situation. I just wanted to get on base for the top of the order and not overcomplicate things. I guess I couldn't have picked a better time for my first collegiate home run."
Daugherty wasn't surprised Robertson proved to be one of the heroes on Monday. After all, Robertson entered the tournament with a .308 average and played stellar defense the entire tournament.
"Tanner is always going to give us a consistent performance at third base and gives you a consistent effort offensively. She's worked hard to refine her swing and is still a work in progress," Daugherty said. "There's no one who works harder, so to see her make the most of her opportunity is very gratifying. I know it had to be a great feeling for her to see that ball go over the fence."
Daugherty inherited the Wallace State softball program last June after spending four seasons at James Clemens High School in Madison, and the Lions haven't missed a beat under his tutelage. He won the tournament during his inaugural season in Hanceville.
"It's cool to think about getting these players in August and not knowing but about three of their names. You work hard all fall to learn each other and their strengths and where they can contribute the best to the team. In the spring, you try to establish a winning environment and in the end give yourself a chance to win," Daugherty said. "I'm not sure we are the most talented team. We've said that all year, but when we play Wallace State softball, it doesn't matter who's in the other dugout. We came out here and took care of us in the tournament."
Indeed, the Lions did.
Wallace State opened the tournament last Friday with an 11-0 victory over Southern Union and followed it with a 4-2 victory over Central Alabama on Saturday.
The Lions, seeded second in the North Division, matched up with rival Shelton State in the winner's bracket game on Saturday afternoon and prevailed 6-2, sending the Lions into Sunday's championship against Snead State.
Snead State got off to a hot start in the championship game, scoring four runs in the first inning. Wallace State answered with four runs of its own in the bottom of the first on a two-run single by Brittany Ledbetter and two-run double by Jodie Farnetti.
Wallace State claimed a 5-4 edge in the third inning on an RBI single by Taylor Beshears, who was named the tournament MVP.
Snead State clawed back and grabbed a 7-5 advantage in the fourth on a three-run homer, minutes before Sunday's play was suspended because of inclement weather.
Play resumed at 11 a.m. on Monday. Karra Elam's third home run of the season got Wallace State a run closer in the bottom of the fourth, closing the cap to 7-6.
Wallace State loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth and tied the game at 7-7 on a Charlee West sacrifice fly, scoring Amber Hammonds.
Robertson ended the game in the eighth, sending Wallace State to the NJCAA Division I softball championship, set for May 17-20 at St. George, Utah.
On the mound, Ledbetter kept the Parsons at bay over the final 4 1/3 innings, earning her fourth victory of the tournament as Wallace State's ace.
Ledbetter moved to 20-8 on the season and was named to the All-Tournament team along with Elam and freshman shortstop Jodie Farnetti.
Ledbetter said the suspension of the championship game aided her on the mound.
"The rain took away the momentum Snead State had and helped me refocus and pitch better. I told myself to do what worked for me all season. This is a proud moment because I didn't contribute like I should have at the end of last season," said Ledbetter, who finished with 24 strikeouts in 23 tournament innings pitched. "This is special because we all came together with the new coaching staff. We didn't know who they were to begin with and they didn't know us. We decided as sophomores to believe in what they wanted and went to battle all season long."
As MVP, Beshears was 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the championship game and finished with eight hits and five RBIs in the tournament.
As with any championship team, Wallace State received contributions up and down the roster throughout the tournament, including from sophomore Lyndsay Reeves, who had a homer and six RBIs after collecting five RBIs overall during the regular season.
Wallace State will now aim for its third NJCAA Division I national championship in Utah. It will mark the Lions third straight trip to the national event and 11th overall.
Wallace State assistant coach Sallie Beth Burch was a player on the first Wallace State team to win a national crown.
"Sallie Beth is a humungous part of today. The effort and work she puts in reaches far beyond any other assistant coach in our conference," Daugherty said. "This team needed someone to guide them, and we're lucky enough to be here. This team is led by sophomores who refuse to lose."
Wallace State's sophomore class consists of Beshears, Ledbetter, Hammonds, Elam, Reeves, Jesse Butler, Savannah Bolton, Haley Hughes, Bailee Daugherty and Ashton Gaddy.
Tournament Most Valuable Player
Taylor Beshears - Wallace State
Brittany Ledbetter of Wallace State won four games in the ACCC Softball Tournament
Wallace State coache A.J. Daugherty, left, celebrates with assistant Sallie Beth Burch