Many schools are known for being dominant at a particular sport, going as far as being labeled a “basketball or baseball school.” That particular label does not apply to the Quitman girls athletic program, who has shown time and time again that they have what it takes to compete for state championships in multiple sports, claiming rings in cross country, basketball and track and field while dominating the competition. Following the conclusion of the Class 2A Softball State Championship game against Poyen, the Lady Bulldogs checked off a fifth state crown in school history and their first in the sport, defeating the Lady Indians 7-4, also clinching the first softball state victory in the history of Cleburne County.
Quitman set the tone early in the opening frame, getting sophomore outfielder Gracie Smith on the base paths with a bunt single, following it up with a double to center for junior catcher Emily Williams, setting the table for freshman pitcher Kassie Rhodes, who drilled a three-run shot over the left field wall to put the visitors on the scoreboard up 3-0.
Poyen would strike right back with three scores of their own in the bottom half of the inning, as sophomore Lauren Austin brought in Kindi Puckett and Lacy Beaver on a bunt, later scoring on a sacrifice fly from Alana Pumphery to knot the game up at 3-3.
More offensive fireworks came for the Lady Bulldogs in the second inning after junior Marley Johnson singled to set the table for classmate Trinaty Ellington, whose swing of the bat resulted in a two-run moonshot to center to teeter the momentum back in Quitman’s direction for a 5-3 advantage. Moments later, sophomore Lillie Webb added insurance with a run of her own on Rhodes’ RBI base knock.
After a three-up, three-down inning, Poyen made it interesting with two consecutive hits to set up runners on the corners, but Rhodes would slam the door on the Lady Indians’ attempt to score, striking out junior Lanie Bennings to close out the third.
A pitcher’s duel between Rhodes and Puckett ensued from the fourth frame onward after both teams had six straight batters called out, bringing up the sixth inning, in which the Lady Indians cut the Quitman lead to two after Madison Wilfong doubled and came home on Bennings’ single, but were held in check after Kaylei Hopkins found herself a part of a double play that also involved Hopkins.
Heading into the seventh and final inning, Smith added to her day by laying down a beautiful bunt for a single, making the trek to third base on a ground out from Williams and a strikeout from Rhodes, scoring on a fielding error that got senior Josey Bradley on base and advanced classmate Aspen Johnson, who drew a walk right before Marley Johnson struck out swinging.
Staring down a three-run deficit and their final three outs, the Lady Indians were able to get their first on after Puckett was walked, however Beaver flew out to Webb, followed by Austin and Pumphery ending the contest on fly outs to Smith, whose second and game-winning catch sent the team and fans back to Quitman with a championship trophy.
“I just can’t even describe this feeling right now. There are no words,” said Quitman second year head coach Stephanie Webb. “I credit all the practice and hard work we have put in all season long. These girls have worked very hard and truly deserve this.”
Rhodes was named the tournament’s most valuable player after having a big day for the Lady Bulldogs from the pitcher’s circle as well as the batter’s box, allowing eight hits while striking out three and walking one, adding on to her three-run home run that came in the first inning. “She’s one of the girls on this team that always puts everybody else before herself. She’s all in, all the time, and you just can’t ask for much more than that.”
Rhodes herself was ecstatic about the victory. “This is incredible and honestly unbelievable. A year ago, I didn’t even know if I was going to be playing high school softball or not. It’s just amazing,” said the 6’0” lefty, who had previously been homeschooled.
Rhodes was very quick to recognize her teammates that helped back her in the title game. “It feels great to come out here and have the day I did, but my performance would not have been good enough without the help of my teammates. They helped me out a lot that game, and really had my back.”
Seniors Aspen Johnson and Josey Bradley took some time postgame to reflect on the game as well as their careers at Quitman. “After losing in basketball in March, we knew we didn’t want to do that again, so we learned how to find a way to win no matter the circumstances,” said Johnson. “We played as a team, and that’s what it took to get the job done.”
“This means a lot to me considering this is my last game ever, so what better way than to come out and end it like this,” added Bradley.
Quitman returns a solid core from this championship-winning team, including Rhodes, Williams, Marley and Autumn Johnson, Ellington, Smith, Webb, Carsyn Broadaway, Emma Thompson, Laney Goff, and Alyssa Harrison. “I would love nothing more then to come back here next season,” exclaimed Webb. “I feel like now since they have gotten a taste of what it’s like, they are going to know what it takes to get back here and it’s going to push them to come back and work harder every year.”
“I believe we’ve got a pretty good shot to come back,” said Rhodes. “We’ve got some eighth graders coming up that should help us a lot.”
The Lady Bulldogs finish with a 23-5 overall mark, taking home championship hardware in the district and regional