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File / The Herald Daryl Otwell led Holtville to its fifth consecutive area title and its first trip to the state tournament since 2012.

During his fifth season at the helm of the Holtville softball program, coach Daryl Otwell took the Bulldogs back to the sport’s biggest stage in the state of Alabama. Holtville won three games in Oxford at the Class 4A East Central Regional to clinch a spot in the state tournament for the first time since 2012.

“They fought all year for that,” Otwell said. “They set a goal and they made it. This whole senior class has worked so hard to take Holtville somewhere we have not been in a long time. That’s a good stepping stone for the future.”

Otwell is the Elmore County Softball Coach of the Year.

After winning their first two games at the regional tournament, the Bulldogs began to sense how close they were to Lagoon Park. However, the path did not come without some adversity.

Holtville lost to American Christian after blowing a two-run lead in the fifth inning of the No. 1 qualifier game. The Bulldogs had to bounce back just hours later to defeat Leeds in an elimination game to secure a spot at state.

“One of the proudest moments I had this season was to see them come back and play as well as they did against Leeds,” Otwell said. “They continued to fight. As a coach, that’s what you want to see after all that happened to them. That moment was all I ever wanted for this group.”

Otwell said all year it was about getting to the state tournament because anything can happen once you get there. However, the Bulldogs ran into some bad luck and were eliminated after just two games but the team has continued to stay positive since the end of the season.

“A lot of people are going to focus on the results once we got there,” Otwell said. “And I really hated the way it ended but it was still a great experience for us. We have a lot of young girls that are already talking about going back.”

While there is plenty for the program to look forward to, Otwell said he and the school owe a lot to this year’s senior class. KK Dismukes, Cyndi Thornton, Haley Walker, Jordan Cousins and Zoe Lowe made up a large portion of Holtville’s production this season and during all of Otwell’s tenure.

The senior class accounted for 178 of the team’s 292 RBIs while batting .358 at the plate during the 2019 season. The five seniors finished as the winningest class in Holtville history, winning 132 games in their high school careers. The Bulldogs have also won five consecutive area tournament titles.  

“Any time you graduate a big class like that, you hear things about it being time to rebuild,” Otwell said. “We have been preparing for that though. There’s a lot of young talent here still.”

Despite losing a majority of the starting lineup, Otwell’s confidence may be warranted as Holtville will have another strong senior class coming back for the 2020 season. Brooke Cooper and Bella Farmer were already two of the team’s best hitters while Alexus Hindman looks to return from an elbow surgery to claim the No. 1 spot in the circle for the Bulldogs.

Otwell said the expectation was always to make it to the state tournament this year but now it is about sustaining that success. The Bulldogs had seven years between their last two trips to the state tournament but Otwell said he is sure they will not have to wait that long for the next one.  

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.