SOFTBALL REGION SEMIFINALS
Monday (all times EDT)
• 3-AAA: 7-Cookeville at Soddy-Daisy; 8-Ooltewah at Coffee County
• 4-AA: 7-Bledsoe County at Upperman; DeKalb County at Sequatchie County
• 3-AA: 5:30-Polk County at Central; 6-East Hamilton at Meigs County
• 3-A: 4-South Pittsburg at Grace Academy; 6-Silverdale Baptist at Marion County
The Meigs County softball team entered last year's Region 3-AA high school tournament having never won a region game. The Lady Tigers got that accomplished, but now they want that elusive first region title.
Region play is set to begin Monday for 12 Chattanooga-area teams. District 5 champion Meigs County (24-10) is scheduled to host District 6 runner-up and second-year program East Hamilton (14-17) in a semifinal at 6 p.m.
The game at Decatur is a rematch from a pool-play game in Soddy-Daisy's Lady Trojan Invitational in which the Lady Tigers and Lady Hurricanes were tied at 5 in the latter stages before Meigs won 10-6. Coach Jeff Davis said he likes his team's chances again, as long as the freshmen who moved into the roster spots vacated by last year's graduating class remain distracted.
"We know we can hang with them," Davis said. "That doesn't mean that we will. I don't think this bunch knows it's a big game. That could be a good thing."
The winner of that game will play Wednesday against the winner of Monday's matchup of Polk County at District 6 champion Central. Region finalists are guaranteed spots in Friday's state-sectional round.
"We jumped on them the first time we played them, but they came back on us," Meigs freshman Morgan Boggess said. "It's definitely going to be game where we've got to put everything out there."
With the bulk of Meigs County's talent gone from last year's state-tournament team, the play of Boggess and some of her classmates has lessened the blow from graduation. This year's team did not lose to a district opponent, and 13 of its 19 home runs have been hit by ninth-graders.
As valuable as Boggess has been offensively - her .454 average, nine homers and 38 RBIs are team highs - her biggest contributions may be in the pitching circle, where she's 18-4 with a 2.11 earned run average.
Other key newcomers include catcher Brandi Kilpatrick, who was batting .385 with 22 RBIs heading into the district final, and Angel Davis (.367, 18 RBIs). Coach Davis - no relation - said he gave Davis a start in left field in the 11th game of the season. She hit a walk-off triple to beat Kingston 3-2 and "she's been out there ever since," he said.
Sophomore Bailey Nunley is a returning starter who moved from shortstop last year to third base, where she's more accustomed to playing. Freshman Madison Hampton has taken over at shortstop.
"Last year's team had seven starters that were seniors, and we had seven freshmen coming in this year," Boggess said. "We knew we had to get the job done. I'm not saying the freshmen have done everything. I couldn't do anything without the defense behind me. I'm just saying as freshmen, we knew we had spots to fill."
The most notable returning starter is senior Lynsey Million, who made the transition from left to center field this year. Heading into the district final she was batting .345 and shared the team lead with 11 doubles and 10 steals. Parke Bunch, Jami Kilpatrick and Shonda Lawson are the other seniors.
"She's started for three years and has been a pretty good leader for this bunch," Coach Davis said of Million. "We've got three other seniors that don't play much, but their attitudes have been great. They've really been good leaders when they didn't have to be. They could've packed it up and left, but they didn't, like a lot of people would."
The other returning starter is junior Jessica Swafford, who played outfield but didn't bat much last season. This year she's leading off and is 10-for-10 in stolen bases and pacing the team in runs scored.
"It's a game of failure and success," Million said. "We can't let errors get us down. We're better than that. We have a young team but we have a lot of ability. I think our team has everything it takes. We just have to stay focused."