Soddy-Daisy's Kelsey Nunley was selected most valuable player of the Tennessee-Georgia high school all-star game Wednesday at Frost Stadium, and perhaps as much for her hitting in the first game of the doubleheader as the pitching for which she's renown.
The University of Kentucky signee did limit the Georgia team to two hits, and she set the strikeout record in the 15-year series' history. But equally important in Tennessee's 1-0 victory in the opener was her 3-for-3 effort, and it was her courtesy runner that scored the run.
Tennessee won 4-3 in the second game.
After Nunley's one-out single in the third, runner Reagan Schrader, a Grace Academy graduate and Union University signee, moved to second on a groundout before stealing third. Two walks loaded the bases, then Sequatchie County's Emily Dagnan, who is headed to play at Chattanooga State, had an RBI infield single.
Nunley had pitched two innings before she batted, striking out the side in the first around a single by No. 3-batter Kendall Johnson. She then struck out the first two in the second.
"I was relaxed because I play summer ball with a lot of those girls," Nunley said of the opposition. "I know how good they are. Knowing them might've helped a little.
"This was a lot different, but it was fun. I had a great time playing with these girls I've always played against."
Nunley ended up with 13 strikeouts, getting the record-breaker with one out to go. That's when Tennessee's Clifford Kirk, who coached the right-hander throughout her prep career, took her out. Central's Shelby Willard, who has signed with Chattanooga State, got the final out.
"I thought she threw well throughout the district, region and state tournaments," Kirk said of Nunley. "She's been playing a little summer ball, so it's not like she's been out doing nothing. We were going to try to get the first one, then worry about the second one. We definitely were not out of pitching."
Nunley broke the previous record of 12 strikeouts set by former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga right-hander Nikki Waters, also from Soddy-Daisy, in 2007. Nunley's 13th came on the same at-bat in which she hit in the hand counterpart Brenna Nation, from Gordon Lee and a Carson-Newman signee, who had to leave the game immediately.
All of Nunley's hits were struck well -- the last a double into the left-field corner. She batted four times all spring for Soddy-Daisy.
"You saw what happened when she hit their pitcher," Kirk said. "We didn't have strong enough pitching to get to the state tournament if she would've got hit and couldn't pitch, so that's why she didn't bat for us. It's not the fact that she couldn't hit."
The honor Nunley was given will from this year forward in the series will be known as the Clifford Kirk MVP award in recognition of the retiring coach's accomplishments, including 10 TSSAA Class AAA state championships in 26 years.
"That was a total surprise," said Kirk, who also threw the ceremonial first pitch. "I didn't expect it, but it's nice."
Dagnan hit two doubles in the second game, one driving in a run, and she was selected Tennessee's player of the night.
Gordon Lee's Johnson, who has signed with Shorter, reached base two other times besides the hit she had off Nunley. She scored a run on the back end of a double steal and was chosen Georgia's player of the night.
Silverdale Baptist's Katie Henderson, a future college teammate of Nunley's, was one of three to pitch in the nightcap for Tennessee and was the winner.
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.