Greenbrier coach Brian Butler holds today’s 5A state softball championship game against White Hall to the highest regards.
“I think it’s going to be the best game of the finals,” he said.
Today’s game is a rematch of last year’s semifinal, which White Hall won en route to its first state championship. Greenbrier, which won the 2010 championship, is back in the final after being eliminated in the semifinals in 2011 and 2012.
Today, the 23-5 defending champion Lady Bulldogs go against the 25-2 Lady Panthers. The 5A-South champions meet the 5A-West champions. Good pitching will challenge clutch hitting up and down the lineup — no matter which team is at bat.
And familiarity with the final round and opposing team is an important ingredient both teams have.
“I think they have confidence they can win, as long as they put everything together the right way,” White Hall coach Terri Smith said of her team. “It definitely helps having been there at least once.”
A big reason for the Lady Bulldogs’ success has been senior Sydnee Clark, who will try to finish her career unbeaten in eight state tournament games. She’s 18-4 with a 0.95 ERA and has 43 strikeouts in 140 1/3 innings.
“She’s definitely our go-to person,” Smith said. “If she hits her spots, we can take care of business.”
Clark will have to confuse the Lady Panthers’ bats at the bottom of their lineup, which Butler says are as strong as in the top of the order.
“We got a lot of production from the bottom of our lineup,” he said. “Your good players can consistently produce. But this year, our 5, 6, 7, 8 (slot) batters have been consistent. We scored a lot of runs with two outs.”
For Greenbrier, junior leadoff and Arkansas verbal commit Autumn Russell has the hottest bat with about a .500 average. Butler said Russell, who won the 5A 100- and 200-meter championships last year, is the fastest girl in the state in softball.
Clark is aware of the Lady Panthers’ speed.
“Greenbrier has really smart baserunners and they’re quick,” she said. “They’re going to have a good defense, so it’s overcoming and trying to figure out ways how we can beat their baserunning and get hits in places where they can’t get to it.”
Said Smith: “They like to bunt, and they like to slap. They do a lot of small ball. As long as we can take care of that, take the small ball away, I think we’ve got as good a shot as anybody.”
They also like the long ball, too. Senior catcher Bailey Reynolds has hit a team-high five home runs and bats third for Greenbrier.
White Hall has four players hitting .400 or better this season, led by senior Rachel Box’s .488 average. Abby Weaver, second with a .444 average, has been on a home run tear, hitting three during the state tournament and sharing the team lead (six) with Box.
Today, the White Hall batters have a formidable challenge, facing the arm of Greenbrier’s Aundrea Hardin (23-2, 1.00 ERA).
“We want to pay them back,” Butler said. “They’re a very good team. They beat us last year. This year, we want to give them a game and see what happens.”