TSSAA STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
Area teams’ opening-round schedules
(All times EDT)
• Class A at Starplex No. 4: Arts & Sciences vs. McKenzie, 5
• Class AA at Starplex No. 2: Sequatchie County vs. Lexington, 7
• Division II-AA at Starplex No. 3:Baylor vs. GPS, 7
• Class AAA at Starplex No. 1: Soddy-Daisy vs. Collierville, 1
As Clifford Kirk's successor, Wes Skiles has been "the guy having to follow the guy." But perhaps Soddy-Daisy's softball program could not have picked a better guy.
Kirk's first season at Soddy-Daisy was 1990, and from then until he stepped down in 2012 he guided eight Lady Trojans teams to TSSAA Class AAA state championships. Skiles is in his second season as head coach, and -- after Friday's 5-4 nine-inning victory over Oakland in a state sectional -- he now can try to direct a Lady Trojans team to a state title.
Soddy-Daisy (35-8) begins its state-tournament play at Murfreesboro on Wednesday against Collierville at about 1 p.m. EDT.
Skiles had various baseball and softball coaching jobs before coming to Soddy-Daisy as one of Kirk's assistants in 2007. He said he learned from Kirk but is simply just trying to be the best he can be.
"People can compare me to past coaches. I don't care," Skiles said. "As long as you get better than you were last season, that's all I care about. I read a lot about coaching. I've picked up a lot from previous coaches. I respect what Cliff did for the program, but you can't sit back and worry if somebody is going to compare you to this or that."
First baseman Haley Reynolds, who leads the Lady Trojans with a .527 batting average with 11 homers and 45 RBIs, is one of three seniors on the team.
"It's definitely a different coaching style," Reynolds said. "I think the whole team attitude has changed for the better. He keeps us positive."
Said Skiles: "That's my personality. I'm not an intimidator. I'm just a person with the attitude, 'Hey. We can do this.' I'm not a rah-rah guy."
Skiles guided the Lady Trojans to a state sectional last year at Smyrna. But Lamar Lasley, who had spent 16 years as an assistant with Kirk and who stayed on to help Skiles, died of a heart attack the day of the game.
As competitive as Skiles is, that day he was less so. The team wasn't told until after the 4-1 loss to the eventual state champion.
"We could see it on his face," said senior catcher Savannah Moore, whose 10 doubles this season are second only on the team to freshman Cameren Swafford's 11. "We could tell. I don't think we've ever talked about that game."
The Lady Trojans play at Clifford Kirk Stadium, and this year on April 22, they dedicated Lamar Lasley Field. Both men are honored with signs above the scoreboard behind the fence in left-center field.
"At the beginning of the season we had a meeting, just to talk about Lamar and to talk about the good memories," Reynolds said. "Just so it wouldn't be awkward, we wanted to come out in the open with it. Then in the sectional, we didn't feel that pressure. He's our angel in the outfield."
Jackie Freelend, formerly McClain when at GPS and Alabama she terrorized opposing pitchers, is Skiles' assistant now.
"She's a very positive person," Reynolds said. "And she's got the [All-America] credentials. We trust what she says."
Freelend calls the pitches for the pitching tandem of junior Emily Edwards (18-5) and freshman Shonna Penney (17-3). Meanwhile, Skiles attends to details and influencing the team in his own way.
"We focus more on the little things," said Hannah Smith, the team's other senior who has made some sparkling plays in left field. "We have a quiet confidence. We don't show it but to each other."
That confidence came through Friday in the form of junior Shana Ward's game-tying single when Soddy-Daisy was down to its last strike. Her squeeze bunt two innings later won it.
Other key 11th-graders are center fielder Brooke Hale, the team leader with 37 runs scored, shortstop and defensive whiz Jessica Boles and second baseman Abby Walker, an offensive threat at the lower end of the order. Sophomore Grayson Brown has contributed a team-high 15 walks.
Team bonding is important to Skiles. The Lady Trojans played in a tournament March 21-22 in Elizabethtown, Ky., and then went to Lexington and the next day watched former Soddy-Daisy standout Kelsey Nunley pitch one of the games of a doubleheader at the University of Kentucky. He selects a book each year and requires each team member to read it.
"The girls have really bought into the family atmosphere," Skiles said. "A lot of times they use the hashtag 'family' on Twitter. It's more than just a saying."
Despite Kirk's worksheet, the state organization's largest Division I classification is undoubtedly the toughest to win in softball. The first state tournament was in 1979, and still no Class AAA program has won three consecutive titles.
And as time goes by, there are more programs becoming formidable, making the opportunites to win state championships even tougher to attain. But a guy whose professional life is personified by his attitude of "Oh well, on to the next pitch," isn't worried about anything this week except the next pitch.
"We have worked so hard this year," Skiles said. "We've got great confidence in these girls. All you can do is send them out there, trust them and see what they can do. They just need to listen to the umpire and play ball."
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.