The Forrest Lady Rockets are not only the 2007 Class A State softball runner-ups, they are a team that wins and loses with class. The Lady Rockets are a team that was not even supposed to be a contender this year, yet they battled and improved the entire season, winning their fourteenth consecutive District Title, finishing as the Region 5-A runner-up, and giving the defending State Champion Trinity Christian Lady Lions everything they had before losing 3-0 in the Championship Final Friday night.
In the era of private school dominance, Forrest has carried the public school banner proudly and has managed to maintain a lofty position of always playing with the heavyweights. Coach Becky Cheatham and the Lady Rockets have appeared at the Spring Fling four out of the last six years with two runners up finishes.
The dominance the Chapel High School displays on the field is not about to end as the Lady Rockets will return the entire squad next year, minus Kalah Mathis, who will be attending Columbia State in the fall. The 2008 team will also have only one senior in Gaby Bussell and freshman Shelby Stinnett will undoubtedly emerge as one of the most dominant hurlers in the state for the next three years.
Thursday night heartbreaker sends Ladies to loser's bracket
The Lady Rockets came into the Thursday night match-up versus Trinity Christian with a 3-0 record and needing a victory to advance to the championship final on Friday night.
Amanda "The Table Setter" Daughrity led off the contest versus Trinity's outstanding pitcher Ivy Renfroe, who pitched a no-hitter the night before, with a bunt single up the third base line.
A one out fielder's choice by Shelby Stinnett sent Daughrity to second and she scored on a throwing error on a hard hit ball by Gaby Bussell to the shortstop.
Trinity quickly got the run back in the bottom of the inning on a one out home run over the left field fence by Brittany Yates to tie the score at one apiece.
Stinnett, Renfroe battle in pitcher's duel
The game turned into a classic pitcher's duel between Stinnett and Renfroe as both hurlers were magnificent; wheeling and dealing an array of pitches that kept the hitters on both teams off balance for five consecutive innings until the deciding sixth inning.
Trinity's Ivy Renfroe singled to center field to lead off the bottom of the sixth, Shelby Chummings grounded out to third and Renfroe advanced to second. Ali Bozza singled to left to drive in Renfroe for the go ahead lead before Stinnett escaped further damage by striking out the last two hitters in the inning.
The Lady Rockets came up in the top of seventh needing a run to stay alive in the winner's bracket. Kalah Mathis grounded a two-out single in the hole at short, but Renfroe struck out the last Forrest hitter to end the game and send Forrest to a Friday morning loser's bracket match-up versus Friendship Christian.
"We will see who wants it more," Head Coach Becky Cheatham said after the game, "At this point, there is no quitting now. Let's get back out and get it done."
The Lady Rockets turned around from the midnight bus trip arrival in Chapel Hill Thursday night, traversed back down Highway 99 early the next morning and showed exactly what they are made of.
Brianda Elmore singled to lead-off the second inning, and after a strikeout, third baseman Rachel Curtis singled to shortstop and Elmore advanced to second. Summer Waggoner was hit by a pitch with Curtis advancing to second and Elmore to third.
Haley Mathis singled hard to short left and Elmore scored to make it 1-0. Amanda Daughrity reached on a fielder's choice as Curtis came across home to make it 2-0. Senior leader, Kalah Mathis came through again with a single to right field to drive in two runs and give the Lady Rockets a four-zip lead.
Friendship Christian came back in the bottom of the third on a double by Hailey Rutledge to cut the Forrest lead in half at 4-2.
There was no scoring in the fourth inning, but Lady Rockets scored again in the fifth when Shelby Stinnett singled to center field to lead off the inning. Destin Payne pinch ran for Stinnett and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Gaby Bussell. Brianda Elmore singled to drive in Payne for a 5-2 lead going to the bottom of the inning.
Stinnett worked hard the rest of the game, shutting down the Lady Commanders to send the Lady Rockets into a re-match with Trinity Christian in a winner's Bracket final at 5:00pm the same evening.
"There is no quit in these girls," Head Coach Becky Cheatham exclaimed after the game.
The Lady Rockets, 6-2 winners, would now need to defeat the Lady Lions twice to become state champions.
Lady Rockets leave it all on the field, fall 3-0
The Lady Rockets were trying to duplicate the feat of the Trinity Christian Lady Lions from one year ago when they emerged from the loser's bracket to win two championship final games versus Columbia Academy and win the Class A Title.
The entire house at Starplex Field number four was packed for the 5:00pm match-up between the Lady Rockets and the defending champs from Jackson, TN with both sides sporting energetic painted faced fans. It seemed like the entire population from both towns were out to support their teams in a classic battle of two perennial state powerhouses and the intensity was as thick as the dusty summer air.
The Lady Rockets only had abut a four hour turnaround from the morning's loser bracket victory over Friendship Christian, but they seemed rested and rearing to go to play for the first of two victories needed for the eternal hardware.
There was no doubt that the game would be played close to the vest with the hurlers on both sides looking to dominate just one more game. Ivy Renfroe and Shelby Stinnett are in the upper echelon of pitchers in the entire state and both have bulldog personalities that allow them to reach back and grab that little extra energy when their teams need it.
Forrest loses opportunity for first blood
Neither squad was able to muster any offense the first inning versus the tough hurlers, but Forrest did have a scoring opportunity in the second inning that would have put some heavy pressure on the Lady Lions if they converted.
Gaby Bussell led off the second with a single over the second base bag. Destin Payne came in as a courtesy runner and was sacrificed to second by Brianda Elmore. Heather James walked to put runners on first and second and after Jessica Hunt moved the runners to second and third, Summer Waggoner took a pitch for the team to load the sacks. Haley Mathis slapped what looked like an RBI bunt down the third base line, but Payne was called out on a slight tag to end the inning. The umpires conferred and agreed on the call that was challenged by head coach Becky Cheatham.
Trinity Christian also threatened in the second as Shelby Cummings led off with a double to start the inning. Stinnett then struck out Katie Henderson on a change-up that buckled her knees. Two consecutive pop-ups to third baseman Rachel Curtis ended the inning with the game still scoreless.
Trinity Christian breaks through
The Lady Lions struck first in the ballgame when Natalie Nelson led off the bottom of the third with a single center. Nelson was sacrificed to second by Ellen Renfroe and scored on an RBI double off the fence in center field by Brittany Yates. Katie Henderson followed with an RBI single to center field to make it 2-0.
The Lady Rockets escaped further damage when Gaby Bussell gunned down Henderson trying to steal second and Stinnett got Ivy Renfroe on a pop-up to Brianda Elmore in short right to end the inning.
Renfroe retired the lady Rockets 1-2-3 in the fourth and Trinity got their third and final run of the contest in the bottom of the inning when Shelby Cummings led off with a triple to center field that Kalah Mathis gallantly went after, only to knock down the temporary fence. It took Mathis several minutes to shake off the impact, but the senior warrior stayed in the game. Cummings was driven home on the next pitch by Ali Bozza's sac fly to right field.
The Lady Rockets did not score in the fifth, but it marked the last at bat for Kalah Mathis in the Lady Rocket Blue uniform and she went out in the fashion she has displayed as the courageous athlete she has been for four years at Forrest. Mathis fought and fought on a two-two count for several minutes, fouling off at least six pitches before being retired by Ivy.
Trinity did not score in the bottom of the frame and neither side mustered any offense off either pitcher in the sixth.
The deciding seventh inning of the season for the Lady Rockets started with Heather James singling to center to keep hope alive for the Chapel Hill girls. Renfroe then reached back for a little more and retired the Lady Rockets 1-2-3 to end the game give the Lady Lions back to back Class A Titles with the 3-0 win.
Rocket Blue ladies finish No. eight in poll
"We have nothing to be ashamed of," Cheatham said after the game, "We are disappointed we did not accomplish our ultimate goal, but there were few people that expected us to go this far this year. We have five girls who started this year that did not start one game last season."
Cheatham added, "If in March someone would have said we would be state runners-up, I would not have believed them. We now have to take one more step next year."
The Lady Rockets were rewarded for their great season on Monday when the Tennessean advanced them to the eighth position in their final mid-state softball poll.
Kalah Mathis' athletic career at Forrest came to end on this Friday night in June and she stated after her last game, "I have so many memories of my time here at Forrest; I will never forget this team. Everybody wanted to win; we were all working for the same goal. This team always worked hard, never gave up, shook off our losses and just kept going."