MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- It took 17 innings Thursday, almost in succession, but Grace Academy worked its way into the losers-bracket final in the TSSAA Class A state softball tournament at Starplex No. 4.
After Grace defeated Trinity Christian 11-8 in 10 innings, coach Tina Walker said she was glad her players weren't going to have to wait around long to play.
"These girls are so ready," she said. "They want it so bad."
Backing up their coach's words, the Lady Golden Eagles got about a half-hour break and then won 6-1 over Silverdale Baptist Academy, which had won a 10-inning game against Forrest 15-13 before Grace's 10-inning win.
Grace (30-8) will play Coalfield today at the same field at 11 a.m. EDT.
Junior right-hander Tory Helton went the distance in the Lady Golden Eagles' extra-inning game, but Grace assistant coach Alan Walker, Tina's husband, chose to make her the designated player at the start of the Silverdale game. Sophomore left-hander Maddy Horton gave them three shutout innings, long enough for Grace to go up 1-0, and then Helton entered in the fourth and finished.
"That was huge," Tina Walker said of Horton's work. "We wanted to give Tory a little breather, a little rest. That was all she needed. Maddy did awesome, but we had an idea that if we got up at all, we were going to bring in Tory. And we wanted to make a change before they got their timing down."
Horton allowed one hit and one walk. Helton gave up four hits and no walks.
"I wanted to start but he wouldn't let me," Helton said. "They made me get something to eat."
Helton said she was ready to start the second game in the pitcher's circle but was glad it worked out the way it did.
"Kind of at the end," she said, "I'm glad Coach made that call."
Reagan Schrader's three-run double highlighted the Lady Golden Eagles' five-run fourth against pitcher Katie Henderson and the Lady Seahawks, their District 5 rivals whom they beat for the sixth consecutive time this season.
"I have to give Silverdale credit," Tina Walker said. "They have a good team and they deserve to be here. Katie's a great pitcher. I'm so glad they did as well as they did."
Grace's Sierra Nunally was 6-for-8 on the day with an RBI and four runs scored. Lexie Dean was 5-for-7 with two RBIs and three runs. Bethany Cowart homered, tripled and drove in five runs against Trinity.
Henderson was 4-for-8 overall and doubled three times in Silverdale's first game. Loren Hilton was 4-for-9 with a double and Bryce Killingsworth was 4-for-10. Savannah Clay was 3-for-8, had a triple in each game and led the Lady Seahawks (21-16) with four RBIs.
"That first game kind of zapped us for sure. They've been here before and they know how to win," Silverdale coach Tim Couch said of the Lady Golden Eagles. "We'll get there. It's just a matter of time.
"We're really proud of the girls. The great thing is most of them are young and have a great chance to get back here. These girls want a state championship."
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.