After coming up just one game short against Hueytown last year, the number-two ranked Dothan High School Lady Tigers were determined not to be denied this time around.
The Lady Tigers used a combination of powerful timely hitting, strong pitching and flawless defense to come away with an 8-2 victory over the Hoover High School Lady Buccaneers to capture the Class 6A State Fastpitch Softball Championship at Lagoon Park in Montgomery Friday night.
It is the first time the Lady Tigers have won a girls’ sport state championship in school history. The last time the Tigers won a state title in a team sport was the 1978 baseball team winning the crown. The boys basketball team won it all in 1954 and came within one point of another title during the 2002 campaign. The track and field team won one state title in 1954 and the golf team earned three state titles during the 1950s and 1960s (1954, 1959, 1965).
Here is a chronological look back at Dothan journey to the state title.
Dothan pitchers open with two shutouts
The No. 2 ranked Dothan High School Lady Tigers used the strong pitching of sophomore Suzie McDonald, sharp defense and timely hitting to come away with a 5-0 win over the Fairhope Lady Pirates in the winners bracket Thursday.
With the win, the Lady Tigers advanced into the winners bracket to face five-time state champion Hoover.
Dothan posted its second consecutive shutout Thursday. The Lady Tigers knocked off Tuscaloosa County 4-0 earlier Thursday morning.
The story of the day was McDonald’s pitching. She went the distance allowing no runs on just four hits walking one and striking out five batters while getting several ground ball outs.
The Lady Tigers got all of the offense it needed in the bottom of the third scoring two runs. After Kasey Cooper tripled, Crystal Anderson belted a two-run homer over the left-center field fence to give the Lady Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Dothan put the game by scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Seniors Tiffany Martin and Hilari Hopkins each had run-scoring hits and Hannah Campbell added an RBI ground out in the inning.
Cooper was the opening game winner for the Lady Tigers.
Friday a day to remember for Lady Tigers
The Lady Tigers started out Friday morning at 9 a.m. in the winners bracket game with a 2-0 win in nine innings over the Lady Bucs. Hoover senior pitcher and Auburn verbal commitment Marcy Harper kept the Lady Tigers hitless for eight innings while striking out 15 batters.
But Dothan High School sophomore sensation Kasey Cooper kept the Lady Bucs off balanced throughout the morning by demonstrating tremendous poise and the ability to change speeds and locations on her pitches.
Dothan got the only offense it needed in the top of the ninth. After Cooper led off the ninth with a single, she advanced after Crystal Anderson reached on an error. Following a defensive indifference that allowed Crystal Anderson to reached second base, Toni Anderson hit a two-run single to center field driving in both runs.
Cooper earned the win on the mound for the Lady Tigers (59-7-1). Meanwhile, Hoover stayed alive with a 3-0 shut out win over Fairhope in the final losers bracket setting up the stage for the title round.
Dothan miscues force “if” game
In the first championship game, Hoover took advantage of uncharacteristic defensive miscues by the Lady Tigers to come away with an 8-2 win to extend the tournament to an “if” game.
Dothan showed signs of tightness in the first title game as they committed six errors against Hoover.
The Lady Tigers jumped out to a fast start though showing no signs of problems. After Cooper led off the game with a ground-rule double, she advanced to third on Crystal Anderson’s sacrifice fly before scoring on a Toni Anderson RBI sacrifice fly giving the Lady Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Hoover took advantage of a leadoff error to score two runs in the bottom of the second inning. Kaylee Sparks delivered an RBI single and Carly Sowell’s sacrifice fly gave the Lady Bucs (42-25) a 2-1 lead.
Dothan immediately responded by scoring one run in the top of the third to tie the game at 2-2. After Hilari Hopkins led off with a single, she advanced to third base on consecutive ground outs before scoring on a passed ball.
But the rest of the game belonged to the Lady Bucs.
Hoover scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth highlighted by a Madison Dicky RBI double to take the lead for good. The Lady Bucs finally broke the game open by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth taking advantage of two Cooper walks, a wild pitch and uncharacteristic miscues by the Lady Tiger defense thanks to their tremendous speed on the bases.
Harper earned the win holding the Lady Tigers to just two runs while striking out seven batters.
Dothan battles back to snatch state title
The Lady Tigers and their close-knit group were not about to be denied a chance at making history this time around.
Dothan put together its most dominating performance at a perfect time to come away with the big blue state championship trophy.
It didn’t take for the Lady Tigers to show Hoover who was going to be charge of this huge extra title game.
Cooper, who earned Most Valuable Player honors for the state tournament, launched the first pitch over left-center field fence on the opening pitch of the game to get the Lady Tigers started. She finished the season with eight home runs.
Five pitches later, Crystal Anderson crushed her ninth home run of the season against a tiring Harper to give the Lady Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Hoover responded by scoring one run in the bottom of the inning when Madison Dicky hit the third pitch she saw off Cooper over the fence to trim the Dothan margin to 2-1.
But the Lady Tigers immediately regained control by extending the lead. After Audrey Jones reached on an error, Campbell reached on an infield bunt single and stole second putting two runners in scoring position with one out. One batter later, Hopkins hit a line drive to third base that appeared to be caught for a key out. But the third baseman and shortstop collided into each other and the ball trickled into left field. Campbell and Jones each scored to extend Dothan’s lead to 4-1.
The bottom of the second inning may have set the tone for the rest of the game. After Hoover placed runners on first and second with two outs, Cooper struck out Mary K. Nichols to end the inning.
Dothan broke the game open by scoring four runs in the top of the third. After Toni Anderson led off the inning with a solo home run, Jones, Tiffany Martin and Denise Anderson each singled to load the bases with one out. Two batters later, Hopkins drilled a three-run triple to right field scoring all three runners to give Dothan a commanding 8-1 lead. Hopkins finished the game with five RBIs.
Meanwhile, Cooper kept the Hoover bats silent and the Lady Tigers played flawless defense except for a meaningless error in the bottom of the seventh. Cooper settled down from the rocky start by going the distance allowing just two runs while scattering six hits. She walked two and struck out three batters while getting several ground ball outs.
Emotion everywhere for Dothan
After Crystal Anderson touched third base for the final out, the Dothan dugout erupted into a wild celebration as players hugged coaches and each other for several minutes before joining hands to accept the state title trophy.
But this group dealt with major adversity off the diamond shortly before the season started in February when an accident on the Ross Clark Circle brought the Lady Tigers closer together as a team.
On February 11 just one week prior to the start of the regular season, an act of fate helped the Lady Tigers realize how precious life is on and off the softball diamond.
A friend of Dothan senior shortstop Hilari Hopkins put on her John 14:6 bracelet shortly before leaving the house. During that same evening, Hopkins and her friend driving and two others were involved in a wreck at the Ross Clark Circle close to Applebee’s.
The scary part was that only one person in the vehicle was wearing seatbelt. The other three girls were forced to go to the hospital. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt or injured in the wreck.
Since the start of the season, members of the DHS softball team wears the John 14:6 bracelet with a sense of true seriousness and purpose while playing the game it loves under head coach Patricia Ball.
Hopkins, who had thought about leaving the team prior to the season before coming back, said the John 14:6 bracelet is something her and the team cherished everytime she stepped onto the field.
“God was definitely with us in the wreck,” Hopkins said. “A lot went on at the beginning of this season. But we came together.”
During a road trip to Daphne at a team meal during a weekend tournament on March 12, Hopkins and the rest of the team found a stick in a field.
“We found the John stick,” Hopkins said following the Northview Tournament in March. “I posted it in a little hill of dirt. When we win, we put a stick of tape on it.”
In the first game back to Dothan with John, the Lady Tigers fell to crosstown rival Northview, 3-1. But the Lady Tigers kept their new friend at every stop along the way using extra tape to signify each verdict. The Lady Tigers won the area tournament at the Westgate Complex, the South Central Regional title in Troy and the state championship in Montgomery with John joining the fun.
Even as graduation and summer nears, the Lady Tigers are thanking their new friend John for the wonderful and incredible journey that made the 2011 season special.