As the home field lights shut off for the final time in Lisa Gray's seven-year tenure as Chattanooga Christian School's softball coach, she savored the moment Thursday night after the Lady Chargers swept a doubleheader with Lipscomb Academy to secure a spot in next week's Division II-AA quarterfinals.
In July 2015, Gray restarted the CCS softball program, which had been shut down for two seasons. During her time as coach, the Lady Chargers have won 112 games, and in 2019 they advanced to the final round of the state tournament for the first time in program history. Now she hopes her final season ends with a fourth consecutive trip to Murfreesboro for the TSSAA Spring Fling, a goal that CCS will try to check off when it visits Brentwood Academy for a best-of-three series that starts next Thursday.
Gray recently let her team know that she would resign at the end of this season so she can spend more time with her 8-year-old daughter while her husband takes over as athletic director at Gordon Lee High School in northwest Georgia.
"The hardest moment for me was walking off the field Thursday night," Gray said. "My daughter and husband and me were the last three at the field as we turned off the lights at 10 o'clock. We just kind of sat there. There were some tears because we knew that was our last game at CCS.
"It's a bittersweet feeling. I want this to keep going because I don't want it to end. But at the same time I know the girls will be great. I think they are prepared for the future. I feel like we are leaving the program better than we started it. I think that's all you can ask for sometimes."
The Lady Chargers have four eighth graders, eight freshmen, one sophomore and five juniors on the roster, but their youth hasn't kept them from success in close contests. CCS (17-15) has won eight games by one run this season, which included handing Bledsoe County its lone loss in a 5-4 road win on April 15.
Gray's 100th win with the program was a 1-0 home win over Lawrence County on March 28, and the Lady Chargers continued the trend with a thrilling 8-7 walk-off victory over Lipscomb Academy in Thursday's first game before sweeping the best-of three series by cruising in the second game.
After 16 years of coaching — which included Gray starting Covenant College's softball program from scratch as a 22-year-old head coach — she is ready to enjoy the next chapter of her life with more time for her daughter. While Gray's announcement to her players came with plenty of tears, the love they reciprocated was special.
"I have had such a great experience, and I couldn't imagine having a better one than what I have had at CCS," Gray said. "The game after I told the girls that I was stepping down at the end of the season, they all handed me a single rose as they ran out to their position. That really took my breath away and was a really special moment to see what I meant to them.
"The past seven years have provided so many memories and ones I will never forget. I have loved every minute here at CCS and with these girls from the middle school to high school level."
When the Lady Chargers visit Brentwood Academy, it will be a rematch of last year's quarterfinal series that CCS won in three games by sandwiching 6-5 and 5-2 victories around a 7-4 loss.
In Gray's first year with the program, she started four eighth graders and six freshmen. While she has a youthful team again, she does have three juniors who were on the 2019 state runner-up team as eighth graders.
"I am so proud of what we have all accomplished here over the last seven seasons," Gray said. "Everyone bought in to softball being a priority here. These girls are continuing the tradition that was set seven years ago by that very first team. To see the culture around this program and have girls that still call me Coach is everything I could have asked for. The day CCS wins a state championship, I will definitely be there."
CCS athletic director Daniel Russell is thankful Gray has been there for the Lady Chargers for the better part of a decade — and that even as she exits, her leadership has the program in a great spot.
"Coach Gray is a friend and wonderful coach," Russell said. "She took a program that couldn't assemble enough players to compete in high school to a team that never missed a playoff appearance since 2016. She has set the bar high for our next coach, and she has left a big imprint on many young ladies. We are so grateful for all the great work she has done in her tenure."
McCallie 10, Pope John Paul II 3: A day after splitting a doubleheader to begin the best-of-three series in the first round of state, the Blue Tornado marched on to the DII-AA quarterfinals as Carter Hewitt went 3-for-4 and came a triple shy of the cycle to lead his team to the decisive win. Nolan Sergeant was 3-for-3 with three runs scored and two stolen bases, Ralston Welch had three RBIs and Hudson Calhoun homered for McCallie. Winning pitcher Olin Johnson struck out eight batters and allowed one earned run in a complete game.
McCallie (22-12) will visit Nashville's Christ Presybterian Academy next week with a Spring Fling berth on the line.
McCallie 2, Montgomery Bell Academy 1: The Blue Tornado advanced to a state quarterfinal next weekend at CPA as Daniel Anderson and Ollie Carter scored, with Henry Lewis standing out in goal.
Silverdale Baptist 10, Evangelical Christian 0: Silverdale senior Katie Willoughby struck out nine in five innings of two-hit ball to help her team advance to a DII-A quarterfinal matchup next week at Columbia Academy. Bentlee Stiner homered and tripled while driving in three runs for the Lady Seahawks, McCade Cooper doubled twice and also had three RBIs and Gabbie Hensley went 2-for-2 and drove in two runs.
Boyd Buchanan 5, Goodpasture Christian 4: Izzy Messer was 2-for-2 with two RBIs, winning pitcher Kinley Ervin struck out eight batters and the host Lady Buccaneers held off Goodpasture to win in the first round of the DII-A state bracket and advance to a quarterfinal matchup next week at Jackson Christian.
Meigs County 3, Sweetwater 2: Kylee Hitson drove in two of the Lady Tigers' three runs in the first inning, while Sierra Howard and Lainey Fitzgerald threw a gem to clinch the District 3-AA championship.
Madison Rogers, a former prep standout at Central, has been introduced as the next head coach at Hixson. She takes over for Tommy Swanson, who led the Lady Wildcats for the past three seasons as they went 18-20 in district play.
"I am ecstatic to become the new Wildcats' head coach at the age of 25. I am really fortunate to have this opportunity," Rogers said. "I want to create a program that will be competitive each and every year. I want girls of all ages in the community to know about Hixson High School's girls' basketball program. I want them to have dreams and aspirations to play for our program. My love and fire for the game will show on the sidelines, win or lose, each and every night."
After winning two individual state wrestling championships and helping Notre Dame to team state titles in 2006 and 2007, Jay Adamson will take over as head coach of the Fighting Irish. Adamson has been an assistant at his alma mater since 2019.
"I am extremely humbled and grateful for the opportunity to continue to build on the rich tradition that is Notre Dame wrestling," Adamson said. "I look forward to further serving the Notre Dame community and helping these young men win on and off the mat."