published Friday, May 10th, 2013

East Hamilton's Maria Walshe pitches no-hitter against Hixson in final

Perhaps the best thing East Hamilton's Lady Hurricanes did in Thursday's District 6-AA high school softball championship game was keeping their mouths shut around Maria Walshe.

The senior left-hander didn't realize she had not given up a hit until after East Hamilton had defeated Hixson 3-0.

"It would've psyched me out if I had known," Walshe said.

Polk County and Meigs County are scheduled to settle the District 5 championship tonight at Decatur, starting at 6. East Hamilton (18-12-2) is scheduled to host the runner-up Monday in a Region 3 semifinal. Hixson will play Monday at the District 5 champion.

Monday's winners are set to meet Wednesday for the region championship. Region finalists advance to Friday's sectional round.

Walshe's no-hitter, which included two walks and five strikeouts, was clouded by a little controversy with one out to go. The Lady Wildcats' Jessica Green hit a grounder toward third base that was struck well enough to be a hit. Third baseman Maggie Woods tried to get her glove down in time, but the ball rolled between her legs.

Walshe was diagnosed with tendinitis in her pitching shoulder shortly before the season started. She said she took the first two weeks off and has felt better since.

"This week in the tournament my off-speed pitch has been realy working," Walshe said. "Every strikeout I had I think was on an off-speed pitch. My screwball was also good. I was just working on and off the plate, trying to keep them off balance."

The no-hitter was Walshe's first of the season.

"She killed it," East Hamilton coach Cara Stiles said. "She threw and hit the spots she needed to hit. Her changeup has been awesome lately. It's been a nice option to have. Her best pitch has been her curveball. I would argue now it's her changeup."

The Lady 'Canes didn't produce much offense off junior right-hander Marissa Murray except for Kelsey Payne, who went 2-for-3. Her average is down a little from the .443 of last season, when she had 60 RBIs and was an all-state selection as a sophomore.

"Kelsey's a tremendous hitter," said Stiles, noting Payne has battled knee and hamstring injuries this season. "She's such a trooper. She's a hard-nosed player. She's going to be out there. She plays so aggressive. She hits the ball hard."

Payne doubled to right-center with two out and a runner on third in the third inning and singled with a runner on third and one out in the fifth. Her single was misplayed and she came all the way around to score the other run. Both hits came on the first pitch.

"Marissa has been pitching awesome," Hixson coach Jayme Putman said. "We have confidence in her. We weren't trying to pitch around anybody. We thought of it as just another hitter."

Hixson (16-21) lost its last regular-season district game to East Ridge with the tournament's No. 3 seeding on the line. The Lady Wildcats then lost its tournament opener to fifth-seeded Red Bank but fought back to the final with victories Wednesday over East Ridge, Red Bank and second-seeded Central.

"I feel like the girls played together," Putman said. "They definitely played with heart. They were behind each other game by game, inning by inning, pitch by pitch. They continued to believe and played together as a team."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.

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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