Thursday's pitching performance by Arts & Sciences' Brianna Taylor at Frost Stadium wasn't perfect. But it was awfully close.
Taylor faced a Whitwell team that had scored in 27 of 28 games this high school softball season and was averaging six runs per game coming into the Region 3-A final. But the senior right-hander limited the Lady Tigers to two baserunners, neither of which advanced past first base, and the Lady Patriots came away with a 5-0 victory.
CSAS (23-10-1) will host Trousdale County in a state sectional Saturday at Central High School at 3:30 p.m. The Lady Patriots play their regular-season home games at Warner Park, but a tournament is taking place there this weekend.
Taylor allowed two balls out of the infield to Whitwell batters. One was a fly that Angela Petulla caught in right for the second out in the fifth inning. The other was Kathleen Sledge's single to right-center that broke up her no-hitter with one out in the seventh inning. A hit-batsman in the third was the other baserunner.
"She's tough," Whitwell coach Derrin Easterly said of Taylor, a Lincoln Memorial signee. "She's got good stuff. I think by far she's the best pitcher we've seen this year."
It doesn't get any easier for the Lady Tigers' offense Saturday when they play at 7 EDT at Region 4-champion Gordonsville, which features left-handed pitcher and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga signee Cori Jennings.
CSAS, which fielded its first varsity softball team in 1996, is seeking its first state-tournament berth in a year in which it has already claimed its first district-tournament championship, and now first region championship. Coach Kaity Holloway said since her team lost to Silverdale Baptist Academy in the first game of the district-tournament final, she's taken an uncomplicated approach with her players.
"They've just been playing ball," Holloway said. "It's as simple as that. That's literally all we've been harping on."
Taylor struck out at least one in each inning and ended up with 11 strikeouts. The Lady Patriots also played errorless behind her.
"We're playing together as a team," Taylor said. "We're seeing what we need to do and we're doing it."
Catcher Kiara Suttles, who doubled and later scored on a wild pitch in the first inning, said Taylor took advantage of the Lady Tigers not having faced her this season and added that her screwball was working particularly well. Holloway, who calls the pitches, said for the most part she felt confident in everything she called Thursday.
"It's always a good feeling to see an athlete in general, much less one of your own, rise to the occasion and completely show their potential," Holloway said.
Taylor also went 2-for-4 and contributed a run-scoring single in a three-run second inning that extended the lead to five runs early on.
"I think any pitcher loves pitching with a lead," Taylor said.
Gabi Queener was 2-for-3 and scored a run for CSAS. Victorious Blanton reached on a bunt single and was hit by a pitch and scored both times.
Gordonsville was the team that handed the Lady Tigers both of their losses at last year's state tournament. The second was in the losers-bracket final leaving Whitwell with a third-place finish.
"We really wanted to come in here and win the region championship, but we've still got life," said Easterly, whose team is 23-6. "We've still got an opportunity to get where we want to be. I believe we'll go to Gordonsville and play well. Mental toughness is one thing this team has."
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.