MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The softball game Wednesday between Decatur County Riverside and Grace Academy at Starplex No. 4 was worthy of a TSSAA Class A softball semifinal. But only the Lady Panthers are moving on in the winners-bracket.
The two runs Decatur County Riverside scored in the top of the 11th inning offset the one the Lady Golden Eagles scored in the bottom half and the Lady Panthers came away with a 5-4 victory.
Grace (38-8-1) will play Unaka today at approximately 1 p.m. EDT at Starplex No. 4.
Decatur County Riverside will play either Marion County or Cornersville in today's winners-bracket final at approximately 8 EDT.
The Lady Golden Eagles not only scored in the 11th but had the bases loaded with one out and slugger Lacye Walker and her 18 home runs on the season coming up. Winning pitcher Brooke Kennedy got Walker on a popout and fittingly caught a popfly for the final out.
“This was a great game. Everybody thought we didn't have a chance since this is the first time we've been here in a long time,” Decatur County Riverside coach Michael Box said of the Lady Panthers, who had been to one state tournament (1996) and bowed out in two games. “We've got some gritty girls, senior-led.”
Grace coach Tina Walker said among the times she could second guess herself throughout the game was not having her daughter bunt with hope of gaining a tie.
“I was going for the win,” Coach Walker said. “I thought Lacye had the eye of the tiger. My gut told me to go for it. Plus, the force at home made it too scary to bunt.”
Sierra Nunley was the only player with two hits off Kennedy, who struck out six, walked six and drew praise from Coach Walker for keeping the Lady Golden Eagles off stride.
Walker's five-hitter in a losing effort included two walks and 16 strikeouts.
“Grace has a great team and a great pitcher,” Box said. “We preached to our kids ‘They got here, they belong.’”
Box said he knew how good Grace was from watching them finish runner-up to his team's District 15 rival Trinity Christian. Decatur County Riverside beat out Trinity for the championship this season, although the Lady Lions came back and won Region 8.
Trinity went 0-2 in this year's state tournament.
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.