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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Sale Creek softball players come out of the dugout to celebrate Brooke Raines' two-run homer during the sixth inning of the Region 3-A title game against visiting Oliver Springs on Wednesday night.

For me there are certain sites that are immediately linked to a specific coach, player or even memorable game.

When I pulled into the parking lot just outside the Sale Creek softball field Wednesday evening, the first person I thought of was Clifford Kirk.

Particularly vivid was the memory of the last time I had covered the Lady Panthers hosting a region championship game, in 2013, and seeing Kirk collapse from a heart attack while standing on the third-base line coaching his team. That same field is now named in honor of Clifford and wife Ruth, and while the term "legend" often gets attached too easily, it certainly applies to Clifford Kirk, who won more than 1,100 games and 10 state championships — eight at Soddy-Daisy and two at Hixson.

Before his death last November due to heart complications, Kirk had coached Sale Creek for the past eight seasons, guiding the Lady Panthers to multiple state tournament appearances, including a Class A runner-up finish in 2018.

For the second time this week, Sale Creek (22-9) scored in dramatic, late-inning fashion as freshman Brooke Raines drilled a two-run homer — her 12th home run this season — in the sixth inning for a 2-1 win that secured the Region 3-A title and the right to host a sectional game against Greenback on Thursday.

"Clifford would've chewed us out for making these games so close and nerve-wracking, but we know he would've been proud of us for the way we keep fighting," said right fielder Shelby Sullivan, who had played for Kirk for five seasons and is one of four Lady Panthers seniors who have dedicated this season to their late coach. "Clifford had several heart attacks when he was with us, and I'd say we've given him a couple more up in heaven here lately."

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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Sale Creek softball coach Clifford Kirk, who died last fall, has been on the minds of the Lady Panthers this year, including during a dramatic postseason run that has them one win away from another state tournament berth.

3 takeaways from Wednesday:

Short-handed success

The most impressive part of Red Bank's run to the Region 3-AA softball championship is that it's been accomplished despite having just nine active players available. With two players unable to play because they're currently quarantined and shortstop Taylor Bono out for the rest of the season with an injury sustained in the region semifinals, the Lady Lions have been lifted by the performance of senior Bailee Phillips.

Phillips hit her 11th homer of the season Wednesday, collected her 47th RBI and also struck out 15 batters in the game to give her 274 strikeouts this year in a 4-2 win over Meigs County for the program's first region title this century. The Lady Lions (22-8), the 3-AA champions, will now host Upperman with a chance to return to the state tournament for the first time since 2005, when they won a state title.

As public school baseball and softball teams have reached the win-or-go-home sectional round, Red Bank is one of four Chattanooga-area softball teams — along with five area baseball teams — still with a shot at advancing to next week's state tournaments.

 

Revving up for another run

In sweeping its doubleheader against Ensworth on Wednesday, Baylor's baseball team proved it can do whatever is needed to win. The Red Raiders, who will be looking for a third consecutive Division II-AA state championship at next week's Spring Fling, rolled 11-0 in game one then rallied for a 12-11 decision in the nightcap of the state quarterfinal series.

Designated hitter Hunter Herndon's grand slam was the big blow in the five-inning first game, and Danny Corona scored three runs and drove in another. After Ensworth scored 10 runs in the sixth to go ahead 11-5 of game two, Baylor's Cooper Kinney — who was recently named one of three finalists for D-II's Mr. Baseball award and the East Region player of the year — had a three-run homer to cap the late rally.

 

Spring Fling ticket info

The TSSAA announced that tickets for all Spring Fling events are now on sale. All tickets must be purchased online in advance using GoFan, TSSAA's digital ticketing provider, and be presented at the gate on a smartphone. All tickets are $12 per day, and there are different tickets for each venue. Tickets can be purchased at https://gofan.co/tssaa. Fans looking for schedules and brackets for each sport can also visit https://tssaasports.com/springfling/.

The TSSAA will continue to follow CDC guidelines for large gatherings and encourage unvaccinated spectators to wear masks and allow for adequate physical distancing from those not in their household. In an effort to manage attendance numbers, spectators will only be allowed entry into the venue where they purchased a ticket. There will be no moving between venues without purchasing a new ticket. In the event a team will be playing again later in the day at the same venue, spectators will be able to ask for a handstamp or wristband for reentry to that venue only.

Parking is $5 per day and should be paid in exact change, if possible, at the site. Parking fees are cash only, and a pass to will be provided to display in your windshield for reentry for that day.

 

Wednesday prep scoreboard

BASEBALL

Region 3-A final

South Pittsburg 7, Gordonsville 5

Region 3-AA final

Signal Mountain 7, Hixson 3

Region 3-AAA final

McMinn County 2, Bradley Central 0

Division II-AA state quarterfinal series

Baylor 11-12, Ensworth 0-11

BOYS' SOCCER

Region 3-A final

Signal Mountain 5, Arts & Sciences 0

SOFTBALL

Region 3-AAA final

Soddy-Daisy 7, White County 0

Region 4-AA final

Sequatchie County 12, Upperman 11

Division II-A state quarterfinal series

Silverdale Baptist 6-7, Goodpasture 7-4

Columbia Academy 10, Boyd Buchanan 0

 

Thursday prep schedule

BOYS' SOCCER

Region 3-AAA final

Cleveland at Ooltewah, noon

Region 4-AA final

Red Bank at Howard, 7

SOFTBALL

Division II-A state quarterfinals

Silverdale Baptist at Goodpasture, 1

Division II-AA state quarterfinals

Pope John Paul II at GPS (DH), 3

Class A state sectional

Greenback at Sale Creek, 6

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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