Central’s softball team looks as though it’s at full strength moving forward in the TSSAA playoffs, and that’s not good news for other Class AA teams.
East Hamilton found out Thursday in the form of the Lady Purple Pounders’ 9-0 victory in the District 6 final. That followed Central beating the Lady Hurricanes 8-0 in the winners-bracket final Wednesday.
“Tuesday we came out and defensively we didn’t play great,” Central coach LeeAnne Shurette said. “We did yesterday and today. We made some pretty good plays on some balls that could go either way. We’re hitting and I’d like to see us keep up the aggressive baserunning.
“I’m happy right now. We’ve just got to keep doing it, and do it even better as we go.”
Central (25-12) will face Polk County in a Region 3 semifinal slated for Monday at Central. East Hamilton (14-17) will play at Meigs County, which defeated Polk 8-2 in Thursday’s District 5 final.
The pitching portion of the Lady Pounders’ game received a big boost Thursday. Shelby Willard, an all-state selection a year ago, made her first start since injuring a leg in a collision at first base in a game against Brainerd on April 5.
Shurette gave the junior right-hander a little work Tuesday against Hixson, but Thursday the coach gave her the ball and got out of the way. Willard said she expected to sleep well after her complete-game seven-hitter.
“I’m back,” she said. “It’s all good.”
Things didn’t begin well for Willard, who walked Shaliyah Geathers to start the game, but that would be her only walk. After Haylee Blalock’s double to left-center put runners at third and second, Willard responded with three consecutive strikeouts. She wound up with six.
Sparked by Ciera Belcher’s three-run double, the Lady Pounders came back with five runs in the bottom of the first.
“I was a little bit nervous getting back into it,” Willard said. “It’s good to have bats that are hot. That takes a lot of pressure off a pitcher.”
Central leadoff batter Brook Womack went 3-for-4 with a double, two stolen bases and two runs scored. Chasidy Ainslie, who carried the pitching load in Willard’s absence, was 2-for-3 with an RBI triple. She also doubled, walked and scored three runs.
Rachel Gamble was 3-for-3 for the Lady Hurricanes.
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.