Strong mindset helps Lady Mustangs shut out East Hamilton [photos]

Strong mindset helps Lady Mustangs shut out East Hamilton [photos]

April 10th, 2019 by Patrick MacCoon in Sports - Preps

The ball just slips past diving Walker Valley shortstop Laney Harris during the Lady Mustangs' 18-0 win at East Hamilton on Wednesday.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Walker Valley softball

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There is no complacency among the Walker Valley softball team.

The Lady Mustangs, who beat host East Hamilton 18-0 in five innings Wednesday, haven't changed their approach since their storybook run to the 2018 Class AAA state championship game, a 2-1 loss to Powell.

The roster has not changed much either, with all but one player back from that state runner-up roster.

"Our mindset is the same as last year," junior ace Natalie Pruitt said after she was backed by 17 hits in Wednesday's shutout. "We don't boast that we are No. 1, because I know if we come out to the field and don't give our best, we can get beat. Our goal is to love everyone and not let winning get to our heads."

The Lady Mustangs (16-5, 7-0 District 5-AAA) have not won a district or region championship since 2009, but that drought could come to an end soon thanks to a stout pitching rotation, standout defense and a lineup with half of its hitters batting better than .400 this season.

Seniors Kaylee Hughes and Laney Harris made good plays at first base and shortstop Wednesday, when Harris drove in three runs, as did seniors Hannah Kate Singleton — who homered in the third inning — and Bailey Smith and sophomore Michelle Benson.

"Everyone on our team can do the job," said Harris, who went 4-for-4 while batting third against the Lady Hurricanes. "We work together all around to get the job done. We try to have our pitchers' back every time they are out there, too."

Beaten by Ooltewah in the district and region title games last year, Walker Valley ended the Lady Owls' season at state. It was the Lady Mustangs' final of five straight wins in the losers bracket to reach the title round, in which they beat Powell 7-6 before losing in the double-elimination format.

Losing their final game is still a fresh memory in the Lady Mustangs' minds, but they're not looking too far ahead.

"We want to be strong from the first pitch to the last," Walker Valley coach Lauren Limburg said. "If we were to focus on winning a state championship right now, it would take the focus off these games that are so big. We have to do our best and be good teammates every game."

Pruitt, a left-hander with an ERA of 1.78 who doesn't give free bases easily, provides ample opportunities for the fielders behind her to work.

Last season, Walker Valley junior Carissa Frost made a home-run-robbing, leaping-over-the-fence catch that was featured as the No. 1 play of the day nationally by ESPN's "SportsCenter." She continues to set the tone at the top of the lineup with blazing speed and a strong bat, and Hughes leads the team with eight home runs and has more than 30 RBIs.

For the Lady Mustangs, consistency and closeness are keys to success.

"Every single game we do the same infield and outfield huddle and break down with the word 'together,'" Pruitt said. "Our chants from the dugout get us in the right mindset. If we didn't do any of that, we wouldn't be as close."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.