This Week in High School Sports: Former Tide stars lead Robertsdale resurgence
A weekly look at high school sports in the state of Alabama over the past week and a look at what’s on. This is an opinion piece (sort of).
Former Alabama softball stars Peyton Grantham and Alexis Osorio knew changing Robertsdale’s schedule wouldn’t be easy.
“We knew we were going to have to take it and build it from scratch,” Golden Bears head coach Grantham said. “I think we were both excited about that and the possibility of making an instant impact here.
“We knew we had to fight expectations and previous rules, but we just wanted to take what we learned in Alabama and implement it in Robertsdale. The main thing is to be good people first, even before being good athletes, and to be selfless teammates.
Grantham is the first to admit her side have yet to quite turn the corner into a contender. However, Robertsdale is much closer now than it was three years ago when Grantham and Osorio, the team’s pitching coach, came on board.
Earlier this week, the Golden Bears (27-16-1) clinched their first trip to the state softball tournament since 2007 with a 5-1 victory over Saraland in the Southern Regional tournament in Gulf Shores.
“We felt like we were on par with everyone there,” Grantham said. “If our children believe we have a chance, we believe we can play with anyone. But when we are struggling mentally or living in the past, we will struggle. If we stay where our feet are right now , we’re fine. I think the girls showed they have a lot of heart and guts this weekend.
Both Grantham and Osorio have proven this in their successful playing careers.
Grantham was named Class 6A Hitter of the Year twice during her high school career at Robertsdale rival Daphne. She went on to play five years in Alabama.
Osorio, a native of Riverside, Calif., was an All-American for the Crimson Tide. She won 79 games for Alabama between 2015 and 2018 with a 1.83 ERA. She finished her career with 1,063 strikeouts.
“Probably the biggest key to any success we’ve had has been Alexis,” Grantham said. “If you don’t have a good pitch, you don’t have much. I’m more of a spitfire type person. Alexis is more calm, cool and composed so we feed off each other. I also think it’s easier to get into a program that may not have been so successful knowing that you’ve been there before and done it. The fact that we played in Alabama and were successful probably made it easier for us to change the perception here.
It was a slow process. The Golden Bears were 1-11 in Grantham’s first season before COVID shut down everything. They improved to 16-15 a year ago.
“We’ve taken some good steps,” Grantham said. “A big part of what we’re fighting against is the mentality that we can do something right, that we can compete with the other teams in the county that have a history of success. I felt like the attitude was, ‘How’s this going to be? We are Robertsdale. We are not supposed to win.
Even this year has been a roller coaster ride. The Golden Bears won 10 of their first 11 games, but then fell midway through the season. In fact, they went 0-6 against Class 6A, Zone 2 teams in the regular season. However, at the end of the year, they went 5-1 in a tournament in Tuscaloosa and that seemed to turn things around, pun intended.
“We struggled mentally for a while,” Grantham said. “We kept pushing and pushing that it wasn’t how you start but how you end. We started having some success in Tuscaloosa, and it continued.
Robertsdale finished second to Baldwin County in the region’s tournament to qualify for the Southern Regional. The Golden Bears again finished second to the Tigers at Gulf Shores, but that was enough to send them to Oxford next week.
They will open play at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday at Choccolocco Park.
Has the recent string of success changed the general mood of the team?
“I mean yes,” Grantham said. “Earlier in the year, if we were beaten once, we were done for the rest of the day. This week we were beaten and as soon as the kids came off the pitch they were like, ‘We We’re not done yet. We have this. It’s really starting to be an “OK so what, not what” attitude. If we can live in the present and not in the past, we’ll be fine.
Robertsdale is still a young team. Grantham starts as many seniors (3) as eighth-graders (also 3). The team is anchored by junior pitcher Chelisa Newsome and senior catcher Taylar Pardue. The other seniors on the team are Madison Smith and Hannah Harrison.
“We’re going to focus on the same goals we’ve had all year next week,” Grantham said. “It’s competition, taking a pitch one game at a time and being in the present on every pitch.”
Learn more about Vic Knight
Last Saturday, I posted a column about my friend, Vic Knight, who passed away after a long battle with cancer earlier today. He was only 62 years old.
Vic has spent most of his life serving others, including and especially members of the media. He will be honored at the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s 50th annual convention next month with the Hall of Honor award. A celebration of life will be held for Vic later next month.
I’ve had more responses from this column than any story I’ve posted on AL.com in quite a while. It wasn’t because of what I wrote or how I wrote it. It was because of the man Vic Knight was.
Here are some friends I heard from after the column aired and was posted on social media:
“He was a great guy! He always treated me well during Senior Bowl week. He didn’t ALWAYS give me what I wanted, but it wasn’t because he didn’t busted ass trying. My thoughts and prayers are with you, his other friends and also his dear family! – Jeff Speegle, ABC 33/40 Birmingham, sportscaster.
“I have known and worked with Vic for over 30 years. There was no one better at their job than Vic Knight. He was a pro of the pros. But as a person he overcame that, always upbeat and always greeting you with a smile and the phrase “Hey Bud!” He will be missed by many. – Lance Crawford, former NBC 15 sportscaster.
“I met Vic in 1991 when I was in the Senior Bowl. We remained friends and when I moved to Spanish Fort in 2009 we practiced against each other in youth baseball Vic coached his team the right way, and it kept me going.- Roger Shultz, former Alabama center.
Unprecedented success at AISA
Pike Liberal Arts continued an unprecedented run of success in men’s sports this week by sweeping Glenwood to win the AISA Class AAA baseball title.
It was the fourth baseball title in a row for Pike Liberal. It probably would have been five in a row if not for the year COVID 2020.
The school has now won six consecutive state championships in the men’s sports of football, basketball and baseball. It comes down to back-to-back state titles in football, basketball, and baseball.
Remember the name Drew Nelson. The signing Auburn pitcher struck out 15 in a two-hit all game this week. In his last four starts, 60 of the 74 strikeouts he has recorded have come by strikeout.
Thanks to Troy freelance writer Bill Rice for pointing out the liberal dominance of Pike and Nelson.
Latest training news
Earlier in the week, Benjamin Russell’s football coach Aubrey Blackwell quit and took the head coaching job at Jackson Academy in Mississippi.
Blackwell was 3-7 in his only season with the Wildcats. Prior to that, he spent six seasons as head coach at Catholic Montgomery, winning 57 games and making the playoffs five times. His last team at Catholic went 12-3 and reached the Class 3A championship game.
Other current football coaching openings include Murphy, Pike Road, Park Crossing and Sidney Lanier.
The coaching situation at Vigor is still unclear. State championship coach John McKenzie was placed on administrative leave in February. The only word from Vigor or the Mobile County public school system is that he is still on leave.
80s quote of the week
“The one constant over the years, Ray, has been baseball. America rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It was erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that was once good and could be again. Oh… people will come, Ray. People will definitely come. – James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams.
Thought of the week
“Today I will sow the seeds of goodness, then wait and hope for joyful growth.” – Devotion to the Cenacle.
Ben Thomas is a sports journalist in high school AL.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenThomasPreps or email him at [email protected]. His weekly column is published every Friday on AL.com.