Sports seasons have their ups and downs and teams can only wish for the ups to come along at the right times. Such is the case now for East Hamilton's softball team, but not for Bledsoe County's.
The Lady Hurricanes have put their slow start to the high school season way behind them. They defeated Bledsoe 8-2 in a Class AA state sectional Saturday at East Hamilton and will be returning to the state tournament, where they went 0-2 in the double-elimination format last year. The tournament begins Tuesday.
East Hamilton (21-13-2) struggled to try and stay above the .500 mark much of the first part of the season. A rugged schedule played a part, but so did that fact that sophomore second baseman and No. 3 batter Kelsey Payne and senior pitcher and No. 4 batter Maria Walshe were dealing with injuries.
Payne, who has had knee and hamstring problems this season, went 3-for-4 with a double Saturday and another of her hits hit off the fence. She pulled up cautiously after rounding first on that one, but nonetheless it produced three of her four RBIs on the day.
Walshe (15-2) allowed 10 hits and didn't have a strikeout, but she pitched out of trouble a few times and her defense produced damage control. Rachel Gamble made a diving catch in right field with two on and two out in the third, and a third-to-home-to-first double play in the sixth helped keep that from being bigger than a two-run uprising.
Conversely, a throwing error by Bledsoe led directly to the Lady 'Canes' first run. But they put together three hits and a walk, took advantage of a fielder's choice in which no out was recorded and scored four times off losing pitcher Lydia Ritchie (25-4) in the fourth.
"We knew this was the game that was going to test our team's ability," East Hamilton coach Cara Stiles said. "This shows last year wasn't a fluke. I think Bledsoe has one of the best teams in the state. She's the best pitcher we've faced all year. To score eight runs off of them is unbelievable. We came out firing."
Coach Ricky Ritchie took his daughter out of the pitcher's circle in the sixth after she gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Tori Harris. The Lady 'Canes went on to score three times that inning with Tori Barnes driving two of her three runs in with a double.
Ritchie and Faith Forgey, who are seniors along with Haley Fugate, each went 2-for-4 for the Lady Warriors. Taylor Marsh's pinch-hit single drove in one of their runs and Fugate, who had walked, scored the other on a wild pitch.
"It started back when we played DeKalb County," Coach Ritchie said of Monday's 3-1 Region 4 semifinal victory that preceded Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Upperman in the final. "We just didn't hit; we made some errors. Our heads weren't with it. We've looked a whole lot like that since then. I don't know if we peaked too soon or what. We dropped off. I don't know what it was.
"We're 35-8, which is still a great season. We won two tournaments and had a 15-game winning streak. We have a lot of juniors who'll be back. I just feel bad for our seniors more than anything."
Whitwell edged Trousdale County 2-1 by scoring an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh inning in a Class A state sectional at Whitwell.
Catcher Kathleen Sledge, who was 2-for-3, started the seventh for the Lady Tigers with a single down the third-base line. Courtesy runner Becca Muir then advanced on a passed ball.
Casey Hedrick bunted to the third baseman, who looked the runner back but then threw low past the first baseman and Muir scored.
Whitwell (23-15-2) scored its first run in the fifth. Sydney Shoulders tied it for the Lady Yellow Jackets with a home run in the sixth.
Magen Fulfer was 2-for-2 for the Lady Tigers.
Sale Creek year ends
Gordonsville earned the first softball state-tournament appearance in school history when it defeated Sale Creek 5-0 in a Class A state sectional at Gordonsville.
Cori Jennings, who has committed to the University of Tennesee at Chattanooga, pitched a two-hitter for Gordonsville (29-11-1) and had five strikeouts. Brooke Welch had both hits for Sale Creek, which ends its season 21-18-1.
GPS in semifinals
Madi Stanley pitched two three-hitters with 10 and six strikeouts as GPS won 6-1 and 3-1 at Briarcrest in the Division II-AA quarterfinals.
Stephanie George tripled in the first game and doubled in the second, and Kelby Crownover doubled in each contest for the Bruisers (23-7), who join Chattanooga rival Baylor in the state semifinals in Murfreesboro. George had three RBIs in the doubleheader.
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.