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Lady Tigers focused, ready

Straughn's Kayla Messer tries for a tag at the area tournament last week. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

For the past week at practice, Straughn softball coach Ray Wilson has urged his players to remain focused on getting better in preparation for the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 3A South Regional Tournament in Gulf Shores this weekend.

“We’ll just go down there and the main thing I tell them every year is to focus on us and try to use these extra days of practice to get better,” Wilson said. “I think it’s very important to stay focused. It gives you an opportunity to work on your weak areas.”

When asked how he keeps the players focused, Wilson said what he does is make sure that the team knows there is room for “improvement.”

“I think you have to not let them get satisfied with where they are,” he said. “Just to make sure they always realize that we have room for improvement — that we can become a better team.”

Straughn hasn’t reached that maximum level of peaking yet, Wilson said.

The Lady Tigers (28-11-1) will start their run at the regional tournament against Abbeville this morning at 11 on Field No. 4 at the Gulf Shores Sports Complex.

In the Class 3A bracket, along with Abbeville, Straughn joins Headland, Luverne, T.R. Miller, Slocomb, Geneva and Choctaw County.

Wilson said the keys to the regional tournament this weekend for his team lie in “bunting, defense and hitting the ball with two strikes.”

“Anytime in any game, it’s going to be clutch hits and how you hit in scoring position,” Wilson said. “The (MLB Atlanta) Braves’ problem right now is that they can’t get a hit with anybody in scoring position and that’s killing them. They’re getting pretty good pitching for the most part, but that’s basically what it boils down to.

“All of these teams are going to be good,” he said. “You can’t give them anything. You’ve got to try to make them earn every run they get.”

That was evident in the 2009 south regional tournament, where Straughn cruised its way through the winner’s bracket both days, to come out with a clean slate heading into the state tournament.

And, if there is one thing he wants his team to mirror from the area tournament, Wilson said he just wants the girls to keep the “enthusiasm” up.

“We’re going to have to start each game with enthusiasm,” Wilson said. “It’s contagious and it kind of bleeds over when one person is enthusiastic — or a couple of players are — it ripples through the whole team.”

Wilson said the team’s approach leading into this weekend’s tournament is based on the fact that the competition is going to be better than last year.

“I’ve seen a couple of the teams and some of the team that were there last year are back and basically have everybody back they had last year,” he said. “So, they’ll be better. I think the competition at regionals for us going down there is going to be much stiffer this year. So, we’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Like every year, Wilson said the girls are excited about the opportunity to play in the regional tournament, and that they have to take it one game at a time.

“You’ve got to take each game one at a time,” he said. “We aren’t guaranteed anything and we’re going to go out and play hard each game, and see what happens and go from there.”