Caroline Armstrong admits it’s a feeling she is getting quite used to and one she is enjoying more and more.
That feeling is the thrill of winning a state title – something those associated with Abbeville Christian girls athletic program are feeling for the third time in less than seven months following Saturday afternoon’s AISA Class A softball state crown.
The softball title matches state crowns won in volleyball in late October and girls basketball in mid-February. The Generals are believed to be the first AISA girls program to win the triple crown of titles in the three main sports. Interestingly, the ACA boys were the first to pull off a similar triple crown in the AISA, taking football, boys basketball and baseball titles in 2015-16.
The softball title – capped by a 9-4 championship win over Crenshaw Christian in Montgomery on Saturday – was completed with a strikeout by Gabbie Causey.
“By now honestly, I am kind of getting used to it, but after Gabbie struck out the last batter, it - the feeling – it all came back like winning the first one,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong, a sophomore, is one of only two players who is a member of all three ACA girls championship teams. Freshman Anna Grace Blalock is the other.
“It feels great,” Blalock said of the latest title. “It is always great to win.”
In addition to making history with a trifecta of state titles in one academic year, the softball team also earned the school’s second state title in the sport, but the first as a fast-pitch team. The previous ACA title in softball was in slow-pitch in 1988.
Abbeville Christian won the softball title with four straight wins during the state tournament this weekend at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park. The Generals opened with a 14-2 win over North River Christian and a 2-1 win over Coosa Valley Academy on Friday before beating Crenshaw Christian 11-0 in the semifinals and 9-4 in the championship on Saturday.
Four ACA players earned all-tournament team honors for their performances during the two-day event – Causey, Armstrong, Hope Kennedy and Emmaline Hartzog.
“Our pitching was really good,” head coach Guy Causey said. “In fact, we had a no-hitter (by Gabbie Causey) yesterday (Friday) and won 2-1. It was a tight game with a no-hitter. We also had some big hits in some big games. Our pitching and offense carried us.”
Gabbie Causey, who called winning the title “surreal,” said the key to the team’s success was, “Having good attitudes, working as a team and giving 110 percent.”
“We knew we could do it if we put our minds to it,” Causey said.
In the championship game, ACA fell behind Crenshaw Christian 4-2 in the top of the third inning, but wrestled the lead away with a four-run bottom of the fourth inning. The outburst helped the Generals pull away and win the title without having to play a second if necessary game.
“We did not want to play a second game against them, so we needed to relearn how to hit the pitching,” Armstrong said. “We had already seen that pitcher – that was our sixth game against her. We had already seen her five times before, so we had to get our timing back down and hit the ball.”
Battling back was an attribute for this year’s team, said coach Guy Causey.
“This group of girls doesn’t ever give up,” Causey said. “They battle and battle. They get down and they keep pushing. They are resilient.”
The Generals head coach said he didn’t say much during the season about the ACA girls winning a triple crown – saying “it wasn’t something we put there (as motivation).”
Gabbie Causey said the players tried to be low-key about the situation.
“We wanted to win it, but we didn’t want to think about it too much and get our heads up too high,” Causey said. “We had to work for it.”
The girls, however, said the topic was always present around the school even though it wasn’t talked about much in practice.
“Coach Guy didn’t really mention it much,” Armstrong said. “I guess he didn’t really want to jinx it, but us girls talked about how we could be the first girls team to ever win a triple crown in the AISA and how we could make history, winning all the titles in the women’s sports. No other teams had done it in the past.”
Blalock said the potential of a triple-crown title was motivation for the players.
“We knew we wanted to do it,” Blalock said. “I think it kind of pushed us to work extra hard just because we knew it would be so great and that making (that kind of) history would be great, so it pushed us kind of harder.”
With the three state titles now in the record books, ACA players are already thinking of repeating the feat next year as the bulk of all three teams return.
The softball team has no seniors and only two juniors (Emma Roberts and Hannah Kennedy), while there was only two seniors in volleyball and just one in girls basketball.
“Our softball and basketball teams and even our volleyball honestly are so young that I think it will push us to work harder to do it again (next year),” Blalock said. “We know we can do it now and we basically have the same people (coming back).”