Photo Credit: Lou Ann Woidtke

By Torsheta Jackson

Tri-County Academy won the MAIS 2021 4A Fastpitch State Championship sweeping Clinton Christian Academy in a best two-of-three series. The Lady Rebels defeated Clinton Christian 12-1 in Game 1 before securing the trophy with a 10-4 win in Game 2. It is the fourth state title in the program’s history. The Lady Rebels finished with a record of 29-8.

Head coach Chris Jones has been with the program for 10 years. Beginning in 2014, his first year at the program’s helm, he led the team to three straight state championships before finishing runner-up in 2017. 

Anna Leigh Ainsworth Photo Credit: Lou Ann Woidtke

Tri-County’s three seniors had a huge impact on this year’s success. Pitcher Anna Leigh Ainsworth has been on the mound for Tri-County since her sophomore year. This season, she won 26 games and had 111 strikeouts with a 2.09 earned run average. She was named MAIS District 3-4A Co-Defensive MVP after recording a .964 field percentage. 

“A good pitcher is always good for you,” Jones said. “She has been solid in the circle. She doesn’t get rattled a whole lot and just her pitching leadership in the circle has made big strides.”

Third baseman Ellie Williamson was a power hitter for the Lady Rebels and named a MAIS top 20 pick. She had 41 RBIs, 14 doubles and 1 triple in 40 hits. She finished the season with a .398 batting average. 

“Ellie is just one of those tough, grind it out kids. She catches for us some, but is good for us at third base,” said Jones. “She is solid at the plate.”

Rowan Braley joined the team two weeks before the season started. In the championship game, she hit a three-run homer in her last high school at bat. 

“I know one thing about this season. I wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Braley. “We had one goal and completed it as one united team.”

They all agree that the path to the championship game was not an easy one. Tri-County opened the season impressively and won the 3-4A district. However, heading into the playoffs, the team was not as solid as they had been to start the year. They secured three come-from-behind wins in the bottom of the seventh inning to win the 4A South State championship. Unhappy with the way they were playing, the seniors decided the team needed to refocus. 

“After we won the district, we hit a bit of a rocky road, so the seniors called a meeting,” Ainsworth said. “We got focused and right there made it clear that we all had the same goal – a state title. Once South State hit it was like something clicked in all of us. We went out and got the job done and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other team, coaches, or student body.”

Ellie Williamson Photo Credit: Lou Ann Woidtke

Jones believes that those tough games not only brought his girls together but gave them an extra edge. “They just learned how to all lead together behind those seniors,” Jones said. “They all became one unit.”

The seniors were joined by a talented group of sophomores who also proved to be major contributors across the season. Madye Bath was the team’s lead-off hitter. She had four home runs and batted close to .600 on the season. She ended the year with a .975 field percentage. Houston Rea Grantham also hit four home runs on the season. 

“We’ve got a good solid group coming back,” said Jones. “We’ve got a few key positions to fill but outside of that I feel good about the team coming back. We should be pretty solid again.” 

More than 300 Tri-County fans attended the championship series. For Ainsworth, playing in front of that level of support made the win even more special. 

“There’s not much that’s better than winning a state title but winning it with your best friends and in front of your whole town and so many others is awesome,” she said. “The support and love shown to us while preparing for state and after winning it was unbelievable. I’ve never even made it to a state championship before so getting to bring it all home my senior year was just so sweet.”