published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Young Lady Bucs building

Boyd-Buchanan's first-year softball coach Brittany Carbonell, center, leads her team in a cheer at Signal Mountain.
Boyd-Buchanan's first-year softball coach Brittany Carbonell, center, leads her team in a cheer at Signal Mountain.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Boyd-Buchanan’s high school softball program has had some sustained runs of success in the past. Now the current Lady Bucs hope they’re on the verge of starting another.

No player on this year’s 5-11 team was alive when Boyd-Buchanan competed in the first four of its eight Class A state finals with championships included in 1987 and ’89. The other state-finals trips were under coach Jeff Stone, who resigned last year after 13 seasons with the Lady Bucs.

The only senior this year is center fielder Jessica Murrell, who wasn’t yet in middle school when Boyd-Buchanan made its most recent trip to a state final in 2005.

“I don’t think they know about it,” first-year coach Brittany Carbonell said of the program’s historical success. “They might’ve heard about it here and there. We try to get them to realize they have it, for sure.”

Carbonell was a freshman on the Ezell-Harding team that defeated Boyd-Buchanan in the 2000 state final. She has inherited assistant coach Walter Jones, who came in with Stone 14 years ago. He said some things are different now; some are the same.

“Both are discipline people,” Jones said. “She’s got more of a softball background, Jeff more of a baseball background. We’re probably a little more aggressive offensively than we’ve been in the past.”

Carbonell said she would’ve liked to have spent more practice time this season on things other than the basics. But with such a young team — eight players being sophomores or younger — that hasn’t been the case.

“There’s so many little things you have to cover in the games, it’s hard trying to get it all in, especially when you’ve got low numbers,” Carbonell said. “We’ve got 12 on the roster. Getting everything in in a practice is very difficult. Rundowns, for instance, is something time-wise we haven’t been able to work on. You have to get the fundamentals down; then you build. Good fundamentals is the background of everything.”

The upside to having such young players is that the experience they’re gaining now should help make them more formidable in years to come. Pitching is always a key, and Carbonell said eighth-grader Abbie Sewell has been the team’s “go-to” for the bulk of the season.

She has a 3-8 pitching record with a 1.71 ERA in 53 1/3 innings pitched. Sophomore Alexa Hickman (2-3), who has battled a hip injury, has logged the second-most innings with 29 2/3.

Freshman shortstop Halie Williamson has rapidly been gaining notoriety. A self-proclaimed “perfectionist,” she was also a starter as an eighth-grader.

“It was pretty scary,” said Williamson, who tries to help mentor the eighth-graders on this year’s team. “Then actually I got used to it.”

Williamson leads the Lady Bucs with seven doubles, 19 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. She is second in batting average (.449) to junior Jordan Payne’s .471.

“I think if we can just come together, make less errors and do our best, we’ll start winning more,” Williamson said. “I think we can do it now.”

Murrell is batting .377 with 12 steals and a team-high 18 runs scored. She does most of the counseling of other players, and a lot more.

“We have to tell her, ‘OK, put the bucket down and stop picking up balls. That’s for the underclassmen to do,’” Carbonell said. “She likes being an example for the others. It’s just sometimes we have to pull her back.”

To Murrell, the role of leader is something she feels has come naturally.

“I don’t really feel like it’s been thrust on me,” she said. “As a senior you’re supposed to be a leader, and I’ve just tried to help some of the younger ones fit in.”

And her teammates know she knows the signs.

“You have to do pushups if you mess up on signs,” Murrell said.

Murrell, who at least will be able to claim to be part of the foundation should her teammates go on to bigger and better things, isn’t ready for her Lady Bucs career to end just yet. They have three regular-season games remaining, and then the district tournament will start postseason play in early May.

“I do realize this is Jessica’s last year,” Carbonell said. “We want them to play this year for her — and for themselves, too. They’ve got potential. They’ve just got to put it all together at the right time. They’ve been very close.”

about Kelley Smiddie...

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 ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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