MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - About the same time as their classmates were being handed their diplomas Tuesday night, Whitwell's three senior softball players were celebrating for a different reason.
The Lady Tigers took command early and held on late for a 4-3 victory over Forrest in the first round of the Class A tournament.
"Anybody that knows me knows I would rather be here on the ballfield with my teammates than anywhere," said first baseman Magen Fulfer, the school's valedictorian who went 2-for-3 in the game. Her senior teammates are Kayeann Patton and Lacey Johnson.
"My mom wanted me to be at graduation and give my speech, but my dad understood and told me to come play ball," Fulfer added. "There really wasn't any question in my mind where I wanted to be. And after a win like this, it really lets me know I was in the right place."
The Lady Tigers will play Gordonsville today in a winners-bracket game at 5 p.m. EDT.
Whitwell led 3-0 by the third inning, scoring two runs in the home half of the first when Alyssa Coppinger led off with a single and scored on Hailey Andregg's single before Andregg scored on Kathleen Sledge's fielder's choice. A similar scenario played out in the third as Coppinger led off the inning with a single and scored on an Andregg single.
Forrest scored twice in the top of the seventh and had the tying run on second base with two outs when Riley Long coaxed Lady Rockets cleanup hitter Sara Jordan to ground out to Coppinger at shortstop.
"We always make things a lot harder than they have to be," Whitwell coach Grace Pickett said. "That was scary at the end.
"But I'm proud of the way our kids came out and hit the ball and put the pressure on them. Getting this first win is huge for our confidence, and now we don't have to come right back and play first thing in the morning. We played really good defense behind Riley tonight, especially Alyssa, and that's what it takes to win in this tournament."