By Tim Chambers
When it comes to basketball, the Lady Highlanders and Bulldogs have proven they can play with the kingpins. Now they’re working hard on tying to add softball to that list.
The two Class A, Watauga Valley Conference teams opened some eyes this weekend in the prestigious Tiny Day Softball tournament played in Greeneville with a pair of upset victories apiece.
Both teams made it into the B Division semifinals by winning three out of the four games they played. Cloudland had two impressive wins over South Greene 6-3 and Johnson County 7-4, then knocked off West Greene 8-2.
Hampton disposed of Sullivan South 4-1, Cocke County 9-8 and West Greene 13-1.
The sudden turnaround for the Highlanders is a simple one according to head coach Kenneth Chambers.
“Me and (assistant coach) Rusty (Chambers) have preached all year to have confidence and believe in themselves,” said Chambers. “We want them to have fun but we also know that they can be a good team if they go out believing they can win.”
Thus was the case in their two big wins against South Greene and Johnson County, where several players contributed in the win.
“Hope Baker, Kelly King and Summer Hughes hit the ball well in both games,” said Chambers. “King bounced one over the fence, Baker and Hughes had two big hits in the South Greene win. Hughes stepped in for our starting pitcher Hunter McKinney, who hurt her leg and pitched two games. She threw 162 pitches on Friday but she came back the next day and played short.
“We had two freshmen Kendall Mull and Martina Presnell who made big contributions. Mull made some great defensive plays at short filling in for Hughes, then moved back to left and made some there. Presnell had several big catches in center field and was 2-3 against Johnson County. Andrea Gwyn and Dakota Jarrett came up with some big base hits — two doubles that helped us win games. McKinney ripped the ball on Saturday and pitched a great game against Johnson County. Savannah Whitehead, Rachel Sparks and DeAndrea Jarrett did well too.”
Like Chambers, Hampton head coach Bill Doss was a happy camper after this team’s three victories.
“It’s the best softball we’ve played all season, said Doss. “I don’t think we could have played any better defensively.”
The Bulldogs had a knock-down, drag-out game with Cocke County that had to be decided by the international rule.
“Sadie Fletcher had big hit that won the game for us,” said Doss. “She hit it in the gap to left center. Danielle Guinn hit it good the whole tournament. She had a three-run homer that was big.”
Like Cloudland, Doss relied on a trio of freshmen for some key play.
“I couldn’t have ask for anything more than what Kayla Stoneman, Carmen Calderon and Maggie Burchett gave us,” said Doss. “They all hit it well but our upper classmen stepped up to. Molly Crabtree pitched well — like a senior should. She kept us in games and gave us a chance to win. It was total team effort on everyone’s part.”
Doss is hoping his team can make some noise at tournament time if the defense can continue to play like it has.
“Our hitting is the key to us having a good team and we’re starting to swing the bats well right now,” said Doss. “If we can play defense like we did down there this week, then we have shot at winning some big games.”
Both teams will take part in the State Farm/Wayne Hodge Classic this week at Elizabethton and Unaka. They’ll once again be up against some quality opponents.
“Playing good teams will only make us better and get us ready for the postseason,” said Doss. We want to see where we stack up with some of the better teams.
Chambers wants to advance the Highlanders into some uncharted waters in a few weeks.
“We got third place last year, but our goal is to make the state tournament,” Chambers said. “If we could get to the regional and win, then that would be a big step in the right direction.”
Elizabethton and Unaka will host tournament games this weekend in addition to Happy Valley being in the field.