WHITWELL, Tenn. — Whitwell was 2-6 this high school softball season after its last game on April Fool's Day in the Jim Frost Ooltewah Invitational tournament at The Summit of Softball complex. Since then, the Lady Tigers pretty much have been beating the fool out of nearly every team they've faced.
Whitwell is 11-2 since the Ooltewah tournament. Seven of the wins have been by seven or more runs.
Sale Creek, Whitwell's opponent two days ago, was not one of the teams the Lady Tigers had their way with. It took right fielder Carley Terry throwing out runners at third base and home to help Whitwell hang around close enough to allow fellow sophomore Anna Yell to provide a 5-4 victory with her three-run, seventh-inning home run.
Yell's shot not only sent the home crowd home happy, but it made the Lady Tigers 6-0 in District 6-A and clinched for them the regular-season championship. Before Wednesday, the Lady Tigers had won their previous district games by a combined score of 70-3.
"We have played better in the second half," Whitwell coach Rebecca Castle said, "but we played some very tough teams to begin with. We've got one senior and three juniors. The rest are young. We learned a lot of lessons early in the season."
The senior is Carley Long, who is the strikeouts leader among the four pitchers and the team's self-professed "biggest cheerleader."
"My juniors have been absolutely great helping me," Long said. "They've been great leaders."
Those juniors are Camryn Haag, Sydney Perkins and Raylon Smith, who is another of the pitchers. The others are sophomores Delanie Merciers and Yell, also the team's leader in batting and RBIs.
Because of the Lady Tigers' youth, before the season some may have thought they were a year or two away from competing for a district title. Instead, they're where they are thanks partly to key contributions from freshmen such as Caitlin Rollins and Maddie Jordan, who leads the team in stolen bases and helps sophomore Layla McEwen get the offense started at the top of the batting order.
"It started way back during conditioning, about October or so," Yell said of the team's building process. "We knew we had a bunch of talent coming up."
Whitwell's nemesis in the back half of the season has been Silverdale Baptist Academy, last year's Class A state runner-up. The Lady Seahawks handed the Lady Tigers the losses in their last 13 games.
And although both were shutouts, Long said a lack of offense wasn't the only problem against them.
"Honestly, we put the ball in play," Long said. "Defensive errors killed us in both Silverdale games. It was always that one inning that killed us."
Silverdale leads District 5 and is a likely candidate to advance to the Region 3 tournament, where it could again face the Lady Tigers. District finalists advance to region tournaments, and Whitwell is hosting its district tournament this year.
"That's really good," Yell said. "We always have good fans and can count on their support."
Postseason play begins late next week for some, early the following week for others. The state tournament is May 23-26 in Murfreesboro.
"I think we can go really far," Long said. "I think we'll get to state. I just hope we win it."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653.