As competitive as the District 5-AAA high school softball season was in 2014, it was fitting that the regular-season championship and No. 1 seeding for the district tournament — which starts today — came down to the last game of the regular season.
And Thursday at Soddy-Daisy, it was East Hamilton's day.
After back-to-back seasons of advancing to the state tournament in Class AA, the Lady Hurricanes were moved up a class this season, and a 5-2 victory over Soddy-Daisy made them the regular-season champions in their new league.
"Now we've got to really play," said first-year East Hamilton coach Norma Nelson, who is familiar with the Class AAA level, having coached at Ooltewah the previous 20 years. "The tournament is what really matters."
East Hamilton (24-8, 10-2) earns the only bye in the district tournament. Soddy-Daisy (28-7, 9-3) will host Cleveland today at 5 p.m.
The Lady Trojans scored in the first inning when Grayson Brown hit a two-out double off the left-field fence after Cameren Swafford had walked with one out. But their undoing came in the Lady Hurricanes' five-run fourth, beginning with a two-RBI double by winning pitcher Rachel Gamble.
"Credit them," Soddy-Daisy coach Wes Skiles said. "The last time we played we had two outs and scored a bunch of runs. This time they scored all their runs with two outs."
The Lady Trojans' other run came in the fifth. Abby Walker singled, moved up on a wild pitch and advanced to third on Brooke Hale's bunt hit. Walker scored when Swafford hit into a force play.
Hannah Smith and Jessica Boles got singles in the sixth off Gamble, who was taken out with two outs and replaced by Shelby Duggard. Duggard ended the threat with a strikeout and finished up for her second save.
"They had gotten a couple of hits off of Rachel," Nelson said. "Shelby throws the ball a little differently. She gives them a different look, different pitches. It's worked a couple of times for us. They're a really good pitching combination for us."
Skiles went through a similar situation in the fourth when he took out starter Emily Edwards with the bases loaded, two out and Soddy-Daisy down by a run. But Amber Phillips greeted reliever Shonna Penney with a run-scoring single, and the Lady 'Canes added two more.
"We were just trying to break the momentum," Skiles said of the pitching change. "Norma did the same thing with hers, and it worked. A lot of times you go out there and change pitchers hoping to break their momentum a little bit. That's kind of the thinking behind it. It just didn't work out."
Brie Levy went 2-for-2 and Kelsey Payne was 2-for-3 for East Hamilton. Each scored a run.
Smith and Boles were each 2-for-3 for the Lady Trojans, and Hale was 2-for-4.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him 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.