DUNLAP, Tenn. - Lydia Ritchie couldn't watch the ball as it sailed down the left field line. The Bledsoe County sophomore kept running until she heard the crowd roar, then looked up and only then realized she had just hit the first home run of her career.
Not just high school, mind you, but in her entire life.
That landmark moment just happened to come in the seventh inning of a 1-1 Region 4-AA championship game with rival Sequatchie County and proved to be the winning margin in a 2-1 win. The Lady Warriors (26-11) will now host Meigs County on Saturday for the right to advance to the state tournament next week. Sequatchie County will also play for a state bid Friday at Central.
"I didn't know I had hit it until I heard the crowd screaming," said Ritchie, whose two-out homer sailed just inches inside the left-field foul pole. "I didn't want to look at it. I guess this first one couldn't have come at a better time."
Ritchie's blast also made her the winner in the pitching circle, though not without a little late drama. She held the Lady Indians to just four hits and struck out seven. Sequatchie's lone run was unearned, a third-inning tally set up by a Bledsoe error. Ritchie walked Haley Brock with the bases loaded in that inning, but, as she did all game, managed to escape further trouble.
Brooklyn Girdley did likewise for Sequatchie, stranding two runners in the first and fourth innings and appeared to be pitching the game into at least extra innings when Ritchie hit her memorable homer in the top half of the final inning.
Sequatchie had the potential tying run on third in the bottom half after Payton Carlton led off with a single and reached third on a passed ball and sacrifice bunt. Ritchie, though, struck out the next two batters to end the game and get her team within one win of making its first trip to the state tournament.
"I expected this one to be tight since we had split four games and they all had been close," Bledsoe coach Ricky Ritchie said. "I'm still not pleased with the way we're swinging the bats, but we'll take it. We won this region last year but lost to Meigs in the sectional, so we're hoping to take that next step."