published Friday, March 22nd, 2013

CSAS softball Lady Patriots serving notice

Liana Rodrigues of CSAS pitches against Baylor Tuesday at Warner Park.
Liana Rodrigues of CSAS pitches against Baylor Tuesday at Warner Park.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences has never won a championship — state, region or district, tournament or regular season — of any kind in softball.

History, smishtory, the Lady Patriots say.

The 2013 high school season is barely two weeks old, but already they've served notice that they're a team to be reckoned with, and not just in Class A. If beating two-time defending Division II-AA state champion Baylor 8-0 on Tuesday didn't get them noticed, then defeating East Hamilton, a district and region champion and Class AA state-tournament team a year ago, the next day surely did.

The only historical bragging right to date for CSAS is earning a region berth in 2009 as a district-tournament runner-up. Former player Tara Walls was a junior on that team.

"I know in the past softball was one of those sports at CSAS that just kind of got brushed under the rug," Walls said. "I'm glad it's come to where the sport is now getting some respect."

Walls was often the catcher for a skinny eighth-grader back then. Now a senior right-hander who has pledged to play at Berry College next season, Liana Rodrigues (3-0) was the winning pitcher for the Lady Patriots in those victories over the Lady Red Raiders and Lady Hurricanes.

In a start against Baylor and a relief appearance against East Hamilton, Rodrigues threw 11 innings, allowed five hits and totaled 22 strikeouts. She senses the team's potential but doesn't allow herself to think much about it right now.

"I try to look at the short-term goal," Rodrigues said. "Focus first on the goal in front of you, then see what's next. Certain things have to happen to get to the big picture. 'We're a team. We can do this.' That's how we have to think to accomplish things. Then we take on what comes next."

Rodrigues is a team captain along with juniors Brianna Taylor and Brittany Patmon. But leadership abounds.

"I think it just starts with everybody being our own leader," Patmon said. "We've got a lot of upperclassmen on this team, but that doesn't mean the underclassmen can't step up and be a leader just as much as one of us."

Rodrigues, Taylor and junior Angela Petula make up the pitching staff for Kaity Holloway, who was promoted from pitching coach last year to head coach this year after her twin, Krisitin, left to take a job at GPS. Gabi Queener homered twice Tuesday and Jamani Greer and Kiara Suttles also provide power offensively.

"I'm a firm believer in extra-base hits, but we also have a lot of speed," Holloway said. "We have a good mix of power and speed."

Holloway also has some defensive versatility with players such as Patmon and junior Mykia Dozier. And the team speed soon will increase when sophomore Victorious Blanton makes her expected return from a broken nose within the next couple of weeks.

The first scheduled district game is April 2 at Warner Park vs. Silverdale Baptist Academy, a state-tournament team a year ago. None of the current Lady Patriots know what it's like to defeat district rival Grace Academy, which won last year's state tournament.

"Competition is always going to be there," Taylor said. "But you want to go into every game thinking your team is the best."

Walls said she and the other players in her class can take pride in seeing the development of CSAS's program, although these are only the early stages of what looks to be a promising year.

"I would hope we inspired some of the younger girls to play," Walls said. "We had a lot of team spirit. I hope they noticed that and are able to go out and do as well as we did, if not better."

First on the agenda would be winning the district regular-season crown.

"To me it would mean a lot, and I know to the girls it would mean a lot," Holloway said. "At the same time I'm somebody who doesn't want to settle with a small feat when you look at the big picture. Don't sell yourself short. Do what you can do."

And what can the Lady Patriots do?

"Our coach always says, 'Great things,'" Rodrigues relayed.

about Kelley Smiddie...

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 ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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