Four minus four plus four equals seven. That's the new math being taught at Grace Academy, at least on the high school softball field.
Four eighth-graders moved into the starting lineup in place of the four seniors who graduated off last year's team. Another four are seniors this year. Whether it's math, magic or the uniforms, the Lady Golden Eagles are champions of District 5-A for the seventh consecutive year after defeating regular-season winner Arts & Sciences 1-0 in Saturday's championship game at Grace Academy.
"I'm so proud of them, I couldn't help myself," Grace coach Tina Walker said of the emotional moment she had amidst a team group hug afterward. "It's been a tough year for us. We've been trying to teach these girls what we're all about and get these eighth-graders up to where they need to be. The first couple of practices we had, I never thought we'd be right here."
Grace (17-15) will host Whitwell on Monday in a rematch of last year's Region 3-A semifinal won by the Lady Golden Eagles. CSAS (25-6-1) will play at District 6 champion Sale Creek. Both games are tenatively set for 7 p.m.
Grace lost to the Lady Patriots in the tournament's winners-bracket final but met them again Friday at Warner Park in the first game of the final. Saturday's was a totally different type of game than Grace's previous 8-5 victory.
The run came in the top of the seventh, starting with Alex Smith's single. A sacrifice moved her to second and a groundout advanced her to third.
Summer Dean put up a fierce battle with CSAS pitcher Brianna Taylor, fouling off ball after ball, before eventually walking. But as Dean extended the at-bat, Lady Patriots catcher Kiara Suttles tried one too many pickoff throws, and when her low one skipped away into foul territory in left field, Smith raced home.
"As soon as the game got into the fourth, fifth inning, I knew the first team that made a mistake was going to lose," Walker said. "I think that helped us. We have some kids who have been there and done that. The seniors helped the young ones stay calm."
Winning pitcher Tory Helton pitched a three-hitter, as did Taylor. It was the second time all season the Lady Patriots have been shut out.
"We didn't play bad," CSAS coach Kaity Holloway said. "We made one error. She was upset about it. With two outs and two strikes, that's probably not something we should do, but I don't doubt her ever.
"Brianna pitched a great game. I couldn't ask any more from her. They're a good team. You play a good team five times and they're going to make adjustments."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
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.