MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- A couple of low-key fist pumps, then exit stage right.
That's how the star of Soddy-Daisy's show departed from high school softball for the final time, just after her 12th strikeout capped the Lady Trojans' 7-0 victory over Daniel Boone in the Class AAA state championship game Saturday at Starplex No. 1.
Kelsey Nunley already had one state-championship ring. But now she has one coming that she'll acknowledge, because she earned it.
From the time she gashed a finger on her pitching hand during a Soddy-Daisy celebration after the winners-bracket final her sophomore year, Nunley has been on a mission to be the one in the pitching circle for the last out in a state final. In 2010 it was Tori Denayer, now a junior who was in center field Saturday, who was the winning pitcher when the Lady Trojans defeated Beech 8-5.
"Since then, that's what she's talked about," Soddy-Daisy coach Clifford Kirk said of Nunley. "She's won a state championship, but she didn't feel like she had."
Last year Nunley helped get the Lady Trojans to the championship game -- again against Beech -- but then was the pitcher of record in a 2-1 loss.
"One was a letdown; one was a heartbreaker," she said of the previous finals. "I really wanted this one."
Nunley helped Soddy-Daisy's volleyball team to a season school record in victories last fall and a third-place finish in the state tournament. She also was a standout in basketball and totaled 1,376 points and 1,003 rebounds.
But it was her career that began in coach-pitch baseball at Middle Valley, when at 5 she was chosen an all-star among 164 boys, that led her to stardom. She began taking pitching lessons about the time she was 9 from former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga player Talya Trudell, who remains her pitching coach.
"I've thought back on that a little bit, especially the hot days out there, all the time and money spent on everything," Nunley said. "It's all been worth it, every bit of it."
This postseason to honor the one affectionately known in the Soddy-Daisy community as "Skeeter" -- a nickname her father, Randy, gave her 10 or so years ago -- teammate Haley Reynolds' mother, Jane, had T-shirts printed. Inscribed on the front is "That Was Nasty Skeeter!" -- what her father yells when a changeup works. On the back it reads "Good Call Big Red Dog!' -- Randy's shout of approval of Kirk's pitch selection with a referrence to a cartoon dog named Clifford.
Kirk said he thought Nunley finishing with a shutout was important to her, but not as important as just winning.
"As competitive as she is," he said, "she doesn't want anybody to even hit the ball."
Nunley managed to make a few paces toward the third-base dugout before teammates came piling out to embrace her. Ultimately she was handed the trophy and the others gathered around to pose for pictures. That was when the Lady Trojans' only senior, who is headed to play at the University of Kentucky, became overcome with emotion.
"I've had several good pitchers," said Kirk, who's in his 28th year as a head coach. "I really don't think I've had one any better."
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.