By Steve Seagle
Posted 5/22/07

MONTGOMERY — There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home — plate.

There were no ruby-red cleats to click together. But Whitney Bizjak’s toes where solid gold as they crossed home plate though it …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in



MONTGOMERY — There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home — plate.

There were no ruby-red cleats to click together. But Whitney Bizjak’s toes where solid gold as they crossed home plate though it was no dream nor fairy tale.

The Lady Dolphins are indeed the Alabama high school state champions of 5A fast pitch softball.

Carolyn Manolakis was on deck when Whitney Bizjak raced home and had the best view in the house for the biggest play of the season.

“I saw the ball coming in and I knew she could make it and I was thinking, ‘She can make it, she can make it,’ but I was just trying to tell her, ‘get down Whit, get down, get down.” and she did. She was in there and we won. We won.”

After seven trips and three championship appearances, Gulf Shores defeated the Springville High Tigers 3-2 in a dramatic come-from-behind victory at Lagoon Park Saturday in the AHSAA elite eight state tournament.

Manolakis was both coach and fan jumping up and down, then getting down on the clay slapping the ground to let Bizjak know she had to slide. For the lefty centerfielder, the girl they call ’Man-oh’ it was a thrilling moment.

“It was everybody all year working and working, stepping up when we needed it to get us back here,” she said. “We just knew we were going to win this. We just knew and so many came through. Whitney came through Haynie came through and Hop (MVP Haley Hopkins), of course Hop through, and LaDaire (French) played really well, Lisa (Ybarra) did a great job and everybody did. We just had a lot people step up this game.”

There were six juniors on the GSHS tournament roster, and five sophomores — six counting second-year head coach Karen Collins who admitted having a 2006 flash back when GSHS sailed through 3-0 to the finals and led St. James in game one, but fell behind and lost the ‘if’ game as well for second place.

“There was a moment there,” Collins said. “I was a little concerned. Down two to zero and it almost felt like last year. But there was this spark. This team never quits, they had that spark all year.”

The games’ most valuable player Hopkins, not only went the distance, she was the distance for GSHS going all 28 innings along with classmate LaDaire French behind the plate.

“We needed four,” Collins said. “That was the plan. We needed four from Haley and if it went to five (games) we were prepared to give her the ball again. And, well, she wanted it. She wanted it.”

Hopkins, the junior right-hand ace, probably has more playing time in the state tournament than most, playing as a varsity starter since the seventh grade.

She also plays not only for Collins and assistant coaches Terry Jones and Aimee Livingston, but for assistant coach Jeff Hopkins, her dad.

“No one’s ever asked me that: What’s it like playing for your dad?” she said.

“It’s good. We’re both really hard headed but I know he pushes me to be the best I can and that’s why I’m here.” Hopkins also thanked her mom, Wendy Alexander and all her coaches, “And all my teammates, too.’

Collins gave dual game balls to Hopkins and Haynie who’s seventh-inning, two-out single to right to put Bizjak in motion to third and ultimately home.

“She definitely had the green light for three,” Collins said of Bizjak running on Haynie’s contact. “At first, I almost held her, but (with two outs) that clicked and…, well, bottom of the seventh, we’re at a good spot in our batting order. Just go for it. After seven years, this is sweet, sweet for them.

Hopkins returns next year after posting a 29-6 record for GSHS which finished with 43 wins overall.

The Lady Dolphins met Etowah in the first round Friday winning 5-1 and defeated Bibb County 8-6 that night.

Saturday they met Mortimer Jordan High who made it to the semifinals with wins over Shelby County and St. Paul’s Episcopal of Mobile.

MJHS then fell to Springville.

GSHS fell behind the Tigers 2-0 when Katelyn Tribble homered with a runner on in the third. Collins said she was proud of how the team handled that.

“There was no getting down in the dugout,” she said. “That’s what this year was all about. Getting that monkey off their back. They are fighters and they were not going to give up.”

Short-stop Lisa Ybarra led off the fourth with a single. Hopkins then drilled a grounder up the middle to score Ybarra.. French moved Hopkins to third on a sacrifice for out one, but Hopkins was left on.

In the top of the sixth, SHS threatened, but a 4-6-3 (Yvette Jones -to-Ybarra-to-Bizjak) double play ended that.

In the GSHS half of the sixth, Hopkins singled with two away. French then doubled to drive Hopkins in for the tying run.

That set up the bottom of the seventh in which SHS pitcher and senior Alisha Smith retired two Lady Dolphins. But Bizjak hit a choppy bouncer to the left side where it was misplayed to put a GSHS runner at first.

Haynie, a sophomore, then hit a high looping ball to short right for a basehit. But with two away Bizjak was well on her way to third when the relay throw to third was bobbled.

When Caitlyn Burham got control of the ball, the SHS shortstop made a good throw to the plate, but not in time.