MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Grace Academy, the Class A runner-up each of the last two high school softball seasons, in the last two days paid back both teams that defeated them in those finals. But the Lady Golden Eagles need one more victory to claim the first championship in the program's history.
Friday evening, Grace defeated defending champion Decatur County Riverside 8-0, forcing a second championship game today at 11:30 a.m. EDT.
Grace, which Thursday afternoon eliminated 2010 champion Trinity Christian, got to the finals rematch with the Lady Panthers by defeating Coalfield 8-0 in the losers-bracket final.
Leadoff batter Lexie Dean, who along with Bethany Cowart, Kaitlyn Eldridge and Reagan Schrader had their graduation ceremony after the game, said revenge from previous years isn't what has sparked their effort.
"I wouldn't say it's payback," Dean said. "We've just been playing our hearts out."
Tory Helton's two-run single in the first inning was the Lady Golden Eagles' only hit off Riverside pitcher Brooke Kennedy through the first three innings.
"I thought that was all we were going to get off of her," Grace coach Tina Walker said. "She's a great pitcher. I know she was a little sore, but getting that two-run lead was humongous. That took a little pressure off ourselves."
Grace's fourth started in mild fashion with a lineout, a walk and a groundout. But an error and Kennedy's fifth walk, with a stolen base by Erika Goodman and a couple of wild pitches mixed in, preceded Dean's two-run single, Schrader's RBI double and Cowart's two-run homer.
"Once we got that big eruption," Walker said, "we were able to breathe a little bit."
Walker said taking a patient batting approach has helped the Lady Golden Eagles twofold throughout this week -- her players attempting to be selective while also making the opposing pitcher work. It's worked for Dean, who continued her tournament hot hitting by going 5-for-8 in the two games Friday.
"I feel like now is when the team needs me to be doing my thing," Dean said.
Walker said Helton, who pitched both shutouts, allowing 13 hits and one walk combined, has done some of her season's best work lately.
"She's got to be tired," Walker said, "but she's not showing it. She's a bulldog."
The Lady Golden Eagles went up 1-0 against Coalfield when Goodman chopped an RBI single into left field in the second inning. The score remained that way until Grace broke it open with a seven-run seventh against Marshall signee Lindsey Fadnek, sparked by two doubles by Dean, the second driving in two runs.
The Lady Yellow Jackets also made two errors on bunts that inning, which included Sierra Nunally's two-run single. Fadnek did total six strikeouts and she finished with 1,925 in her career.
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.