Staff Photo by Patrick Smith MEIGS COUNTY. Mark Gowin looks into the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge during the Birchwood Crane-Cherokee Heritage Days.
Give the seniors on Meigs County High School's softball team a challenge, and they're up for it.
"They're very competitive and pretty much have been since they were 5 years old," Lady Tigers coach Jeff Davis said. "If it's walking down the street, they want to beat each other. That goes for grades, ball, anything."
No report yet on which is best at walking down the street, but four seniors are atop at least one of the team's major offensive categories this season. Add manager Chelsea Pillion to the mix and all eight seniors in the program are in the top 15 academically in their class.
The seven playing seniors are starters on a regular basis and are key reasons the Lady Tigers are 35-6 and heading into region play.
Region tournaments begin statewide Monday for the TSSAA's Division I softball teams. Meigs County will host East Ridge in a Region 3-AA semifinal at 6 p.m. Polk County will play at Central at 5:30.
Region championship games are Wednesday. Region finalists are guaranteed berths in Friday's state sectional round, where the winners advance to the state tournament.
Meigs County's seniors have put in the work to succeed simultaneously in the classroom and the athletic arena. Brooke Melhorn is the team's pitching leader and class salutatorian.
"Our girl athletes through the years have been some of our better students," Meigs principal Clint Baker said, "but I don't know that we've had a class this large on a team that well-rounded."
Catcher Kirstie Jennings leads the team in batting average and stolen bases and is the daughter of assistant coach Tim Jennings and his wife Laura. Kirstie is one of five among this senior group who also played basketball and one of three who were on the golf team.
"I have an older sister that played basketball, so I got dragged around to gyms, ballfields and everywhere because of her," Kirstie said of Katie. "I didn't have a choice but to be around sports. When I started playing, me not having the grades was not an option. My mom's a schoolteacher."
Kirstie said she's learned to budget her time, often doing math homework or writing a paper for English when she gets free time in class. Second baseman Jill Davis, daughter of the head coach and his wife Karen, thinks learning time management now will be good preparation for next year when she, Jennings and team RBI leader Courtney Combs play at Bryan College.
"She's pretty self-motivated," Jeff Davis said of his daughter. "I'd say that's probably true for most of them. They've got a lot going on between church and school."
MONDAY'S REGION SOFTBALL SCHEDULE
(All times Eastern)
* 3-A: Silverdale Baptist at Marion County, 6; South Pittsburg at Grace Academy, 7
* 3-AA: Polk County at Central, 5:30; East Ridge at Meigs County, 6
* 4-AA: Sequatchie County at DeKalb County, 6; Livingston Academy at Bledsoe County, 7
* 3-AAA: Warren County at Soddy-Daisy, 7; Ooltewah at Coffee County, 8
Coach Davis said there have been no instances of trouble with any of them, only occasional teenage-girl drama that he and Jennings try to avoid. Davis said Ashleigh Struthers -- who as Ashleigh Bull terrorized pitchers when she played at Red Bank High School and later Chattanooga State and the
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga -- helps on that side of the equation.
Struthers' hitting instruction also has helped the Lady Tigers become one of the most productive offenses in the Chattanooga area. Combs is closing in on 70 RBIs, classmate Lindsay Arndts is nearing 30 extra-base hits and Ashley Shaver has scored more than 50 runs.
The Lady Tigers, whose other senior is Hannah Kerley, finished 25-7 this time a year ago. Kirstie Jennings recalled the painful memory of the region-semifinal loss that now serves as motivation.
Jill Davis said three main goals were set at the beginning of the season. Winning the District 5 regular season and tournament -- which they did -- were two of them. Getting to the final with an opportunity to win Meigs County's first region championship in these seniors' lifetimes is the other.
"The scholarship offers have been great," she said. "So has all the success. But to win the region for our community would just be great. We want to make it to the state tournament, but we know we've got to get through the region first."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.