• TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII
baseball & softball tournaments
• $7 per day ($4 students); $20 tournament pass (covers both sports)
• All games on Ustream.tv through Chattanooga State website
This may be Chattanooga State's best softball team yet -- in nearly two decades of Region VII dominance and national contention. But whereas the Lady Tigers usually have been all alone from the region in the NJCAA Division I rankings, Volunteer State also was ranked when it beat them twice in last year's regional and this year's Lady Pioneers are ranked 15th with Walters State receiving Top 25 votes as well.
Chattanooga State is 52-4 and second in the country, after several weeks at No. 1. The Lady Tigers dropped a notch as a result of a split in their last TCCAA doubleheader of the season -- losing 2-1 and winning 6-2 at Vol State (45-7), which lost and won a week later at Walters (43-5).
Today in the state/region tournament at Chattanooga State, the top-seeded hosts face Jackson State at noon, followed by Walters against Southwest Tennessee at 2 and Vol State against Motlow at 4. Fifth-seeded Cleveland State faces fourth seed Columbia State in the day's first game at 10 a.m.
Jackson State beat Roane State 6-4 in the first play-in game Sunday as Tiffany Keck rapped a tiebreaking double to left field in the top of the seventh inning and scored on a single. Motlow scored six runs in the first inning for pitcher Roxanne Hillman in a 10-4 defeat of Dyersburg State.
"We've got some good teams in our conference -- and some dynamite players," Chattanooga State softball coach Beth Keylon-Randolph said. "Across the country kids have gotten better, but Region VII has some phenomenal players worth coming out to watch every day."
Vol State's Ali Hart, for example, is batting .509 with 11 home runs, 21 doubles, eight triples and 71 RBIs.
Keylon-Randolph did not want to compare starting lineups of her perennially strong teams, but she did say "this team has the most depth of any team I've ever had."
Specifically, the 11th-year coach added, "It has always been my goal to have two quality players at every position, and this year we definitely have that."
Center fielder Shelby Johnson is batting .510 with 66 runs scored and a school-record 77 stolen bases in 79 attempts -- and video disputes both out calls, Keylon-Randolph said -- while Lacye Walker is hitting .445 with 53 RBIs, 24 doubles, five home runs and 42 runs and MeQuilla Franklin is hitting .444 with 19 steals in 20 tries. Chelsea Burgess has a .401 average with 10 homers and 22-of-24 thefts success, and Andrea Dalton and Andie Johnson are batting .381 and .375 with 19 steals in 20 tries between them. Dalton has seven homers, 11 doubles and three triples.
Marina Wilkerson is batting .366 with 13 homers, 11 doubles, four triples and 26-of-28 steals success, and Courtney DeLay and Kortney Koroll are batting .338 and .316, Koroll with nine homers and 41 RBIs. Beth Breeden has five homers in only 40 at-bats, and Kristen Qualls has only 10 at-bats but pinch-hit in a two-out situation against Northwest Florida and gapped a bases-loaded double on the first pitch she saw.
Chattanooga State has stolen 204 bases in 213 tries and allowed only 27 in 36 tries and has 54 homers, 105 doubles and 21 triples compared to 13, 37 and four for their opponents.
That's because of the dominance of its pitchers, particularly LSU signee Ashley Czechner who transferred from Maryland and freshman Janna Scheff from Cartersville, Ga. Czechner is 27-3 with five saves, a 0.44 earned run average and 301 strikeouts in 190 innings. Scheff is 22-1 with one save, a 0.80 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 123 innings.
"They're similar in that they have command of a variety of pitches," Keylon-Randolph said. "Both have a drop, a rise, a screw[ball] and a curve, and both have good changeups. Janna probably mixes her speeds more within her pitches, and she has a heavier drop ball. She has worked so hard and improved tremendously.
"And Ashley mentally is one of the toughest pitchers I've ever coached."
Andie Johnson, a former Soddy-Daisy standout, said the Lady Tigers have supreme camaraderie as well as confidence in each other.
"I think everybody is happy to be part of this team," she said.
The region champion goes to St. George, Utah, for the May 17-19 tournament.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.