The District 6-AA high school softball game Tuesday at East Ridge went one inning longer than regulation, which went one inning longer than Hixson and Marissa Murray would've liked.
With Murray pitching a one-hit shutout and East Ridge down to its last two outs, the Lady Pioneers got a tying home run from catcher Tatyana Najeeullah. The Lady Pioneers then pushed across a run in the bottom of the eighth inning and edged the Lady Wildcats 2-1.
Holly Wilson was hit by a pitch from reliever Michaela Penney with one out in the eighth. After a single by winning pitcher Ashley Irvin and a walk to Leilani Forton, Wilson scored the winning run on Hixson's only error.
East Ridge finished the regular season 12-9 and with its 4-2 district mark will be third-seeded in the district tournament, which starts Saturday. The Lady Pioneers were seeded third in last year's tournament and advanced as far as a state sectional.
East Ridge coach Sandy Mauser said she hopes some more magic awaits in this year's No. 3 seeding. And the Lady Pioneers avoid having to play their opening game in the tournament against fifth-seeded Red Bank, which outscored them 19-14 in four games this season with three matchups coming in tournaments.
"This was very important," Mauser said. "A lot of teams in our district are so even. The tournament is up for grabs in my opinion."
After giving up a leadoff walk, Murray retired 12 consecutive Lady Pioneers before Najeeullah got their first hit, leading off the fifth. The Lady Wildcats gave Murray a run next inning, but she showed signs of beginning to stagger by walking the first three in the bottom half. However, the third came with two out and the bases empty, thanks to catcher Kaleigh Riley.
After Najeeullah's homer, East Ridge's Morgan Montieth walked and Stacey Hamill singled before Murray's sixth strikeout killed the rally. Afterward, Hixson coach Jayme Putman pulled her.
"She was throwing grapefruits up there the last inning," Putman said. "She struggled out there the inning before, walking three straight. Kaleigh Riley picked one off first and they tried a straight steal and she threw her out at second. She definitely got us out of that inning.
"Defensively I felt like we played really solid. We've got to get our bats going."
Ciera Taylor doubled for Hixson (13-19, 3-3) and scored on a double by Riley. Najeeullah caught a runner stealing, thanks to the handling of a high throw by shortstop Alexis Moore, for the first out that inning. East Ridge also made an infield error, but Hamill fielded the ball in right field and threw a runner out at home to end the inning.
"That was a very big out," Mauser said. "That's the thing we've been struggling with. We got behind a run but we were able to hold together our composure and still fight. Usually we fold. This game could've gone either way. Both teams fought hard."
Irvin allowed six hits, walked none and hit one batter. Nine of her 10 strikeouts were in the first five innings.
Abigail Tipton went 2-for-3 for the Lady Wildcats.
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.