It certainly wasn't easy, but good things rarely come easily, and now the East Hamilton softball team has made history and has the chance to do even more next week.
The Lady Hurricanes rallied for an 8-7 win over Sequatchie County in a Class AA state sectional Friday night at East Hamilton to earn the program its first state-tournament berth.
"This is awesome; this is what we worked for all year," East Hamilton first baseman Amber Phillips said. "Now we've got all the marbles, and now we're just going to have to go after [a state championship]."
Phillips' three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning highlighted a back-and-forth battle in which the teams combined for 23 hits and seven errors.
The Lady Indians got things started in the top of the first inning, scoring two runs on four hits, but they also suffered a tough blow when cleanup hitter Katelynne Cheatham injured her neck sliding headfirst into second base. That forced her out of the lineup and into an ambulance with head and neck pain.
"I was kind of worried that it might effect us," said Sequatchie coach Courtney Stewart. "But we played hard and stayed in the ballgame. I'm proud of the way that we played and stayed after it, but sometimes it just goes the other way."
East Hamilton got two runs of its own in the bottom of the first and took a 3-2 lead in the second when pitcher Maria Walshe scored on a throwing error following a single by Shaliyah Geathers.
The Lady Indians roared back into the lead with a four-run top of the fourth, with catcher Emily Dagnan's two-out, three-run homer off Walshe making the score 6-3.
East Hamilton responded with a five-run outburst in the bottom of the inning, getting five hits to chase Sequatchie pitcher Brooklyn Girdley after Phillips' home run.
"After I hit the fence in my first at-bat, I told Coach, 'The next one's going to go,'" Phillips said. "I told her I was going to do it, and there it went."
After reclaiming the lead, Walshe worked our of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning and allowed just a single unearned run on two hits in the final three innings.
"I just knew my team was behind me today," she said. "They kept coming up to me every time things went wrong saying, 'We've got your back. Just keep pitching the way you're pitching.' So I just knew we would win."
Geathers, Walshe, Phillips, McKenzie Mayes and Rachel Gamble each had two hits for the Lady Hurricanes.
Sequatchie's Dagnan and shortstop Meredith Mitchell each went 3-for-4 in the season-ending loss.
East Hamilton coach Cara Stiles was emotional after watching her team rally for the historic win and earn a trip to Spring Fling next week.
"It's very, very exciting. It means a lot to all of us," she said. "We've worked very hard to get here, and they just killed the ball today. I'm so proud of them."
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...