The visiting East Hamilton High School softball team produced all seven of its runs with two outs, earning a spot in the Class 3A State Tournament with Sunday afternoon’s 7-2, sectional victory over Macon County.
“I think that was the best hitting game they’ve had,” Tigerette head coach Jenna Russell said. “For them, they were (clutch with two outs). It was everything for them.
“Defensively, we didn’t do bad. We just couldn’t string our hits together.”
Conversely, Macon County was only able to produce one two-out hit with runners in scoring position off of Lady Hurricane pitcher Ashlynn Watkins, who scattered seven hits while walking two batters and striking out two in the complete-game effort. The Tigerettes left 10 runners stranded on base, six of which were left in scoring position.
“She threw really well,” East Hamilton 10th-year head coach Norma Nelson said of Watkins. “She hit her spots. That’s what it’s about … hitting those spots. Make them hit your pitch.”
The Tigerettes actually struck first as senior Ellie Coley reached on a first-inning error, followed by consecutive walks to senior Cadence Carter and junior Gianna Holden. Macon County sophomore Kenley Roark followed with a sacrifice fly to leftfield that allowed Coley to tag up and score the game’s first run.
However, the Lady Hurricans (26-10) rattled off the next seven runs, beginning with a third-inning double from Henley Apps that drove in Yulai Woodruff.
Then, after Tigerette senior pitcher Ellie Coley retired the first two hitters in the top of the fourth inning, East Hamilton reeled off five consecutive hits, with Grace Hixson’s bases-loaded double driving in three runs. Woodruff followed with her fourth home run of the season — a two-run shot — to create a 6-1 margin.
“Swing at good pitches … that’s my key,” Nelson said. “We’ve done that a couple of times. We’ve hit the ball well with two outs.”
Three more two-out hits in the fifth led to another run, with senior leadoff hitter Reese Knox singling to drive in sophomore courtesy runner Izzi Norman.
“Their hitting impressed me a lot,” Russells aid. “From the few games I saw, they played small ball.
“They found the gaps. They were a good-hitting team.”
Macon County had baserunners in each of the first six innings, leaving the bases loaded in the fifth.
“We were in the late innings of the game,” Russell said. “It was especially tough mentally, because we knew we hadn’t been hitting her.”
In the sixth, Tigerette sophomore Journey Beasley doubled and scored on senior Macy Meador’s two-out double to centerfield.
However, after Coley reached on an error, an infield pop-up ended the threat.
“We just didn’t string out hits together,” Russell said.
Watkins (14-3) retired the side in order in the bottom of the seventh.
The Lady Hurricanes — who reached the state tournament in both 2012 and 2013 (prior to Nelson taking over as head coach in 2014) — outhit Macon County, 16-7.
“We lost five seniors last year,” Nelson — who coached at Ooltewah for 24 seasons, leading the Lady Owls to the 2008 Class AAA state title — said. “I felt better coming up here this year. Last year, we went to Lincoln County. We scored five in the first inning, and they went on to run-rule us (an 18-8 loss).
“They’ve worked hard. I even asked them to practice last (Sunday), Mother’s Day.”
The Tigerettes ended their season with an 18-13 record, having won the District 7-3A regular-season championship and the Region 4-3A Tournament championship.
“I told them … you can be sad right now, but you cannot be sad over this season,” Russell said. “They got to host the district (tournament) for the first time since the 1990s. They won the region for the first time ever. They got to host a substate game for the first time ever. They set the bar high for every softball team after.
“They broke records. They made history. I’m so proud of them.”
The MCHS program had previously lost to Chattanooga Central in its other two sectional appearances, falling 10-0 in 2015 and 1-0 in 2017. Russell played on both of those squads, having graduated in 2017.
Macon County loses three seniors — Carter, Coley and Meador.
“They’re everything,” Russell said. “My seniors have had great leadership. They are in three very important positions, both offensively and defensively. It’s hard to replace them. People are going to have to step up.
“They’ve set the bar high.”
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