Summertown blues sweet music to Forrest flingers
There were a lot of sprains, bruises, and bandages along the way this season as the pundits and predictors jumped from the Forrest bandwagon, but in the end the true believers took the field and filled the stands Friday at Summertown in a Class-A sectional game and their faith was rewarded with a hard fought 4-3 win, earning the Lady Rockets their fifth straight Blue Cross Spring Fling bid.
"I just want to say we are back," said Shelby Stinnett after the ballgame. "Whatever happens, happens, but we are going to be trying to go all the way. We are young but sometimes you can get overlooked when you fight and you are the underdogs. We have been the underdogs before so they have just got to be ready."
Stinnett sports an 11-5 record in state tournament play and already holds the all-time state tournament record with 18 career pitching appearances in her five years and Stinnett can break Brentwood's Kaci Clark's record for innings pitched with 16 more frames.
The win continued the sub-state blues for Summertown, who has had four chances in five years to eliminate the Lady Rockets, but each time Forrest has prevailed.
Forrest is 8-0 versus Summertown since 2002 and the Chapel Hill school's excellence in 21st Century Class-A softball is unmatched with their five straight state tournament bids and seven appearances in ten years.
The Lady Rockets own the 2008 title and have finished second three times in 2002, 2007, and 2009.
Not many people gave Forrest a chance this season, especially after losing six starters and the crushing defeat versus Trinity Christian in the title round last year when Forrest was one out away from victory and lost.
They always find a way and they found the way again on Friday, primarily on the backs of the two remaining seniors Rachel Curtis and Stinnett, who also had a lot of help from their friends.
Curtis set the tone of the ballgame with a first inning three-run homerun into the Summertown forest in left field.
Caitlyn Rotchford got the first frame rally started with a single to center and eighth grader Kaitlin Toombs came in as a courtesy runner for the FHS catcher.
Stinnett bounced a single up the middle before Curtis drilled a Tasha Horne screwball on a line over the fence for a 3-0 Forrest lead, sending Summertown a message that they were in for a dogfight.
"I knew the screwball was coming, that is what we were practicing all week," said Curtis after the game. "That was big. We needed to get started and put some runs on the board because we knew they would too. We worked all week on our hitting and it paid off."
In the home half of the second, Summertown hit the ball hard four times, but had nothing to show for it as Forrest center fielder Adrean Jordan robbed them, catching all three outs, including two spectacular running grabs.
Forrest had two on with one out in the third before Horne got out of the jam, sending the Lady Eagles up to bat, poised to defend their home field and they did, coming back with three runs in the inning to tie the ballgame.
The big blow was a two-run dinger by Karlie Harwell that made it 3-2 and five batters later, Courtney Grooms tied it with an RBI hit to left that scored Alley Benefield who was intentionally walked for the second straight time.
Undaunted, the Lady Rockets came back in their next at bat.
Whitney Stofel got things going with a leadoff single to center.
Jessica Harmon came in to run for Stofel and was out at second on a 5-4 fielder's choice by Korissa Warlick, bringing up shortstop Ciara Cook.
Cook, FHS head Coach Becky Cheatham, and assistant Ricky Stinnett had talked before the inning started about which side of the plate the sophomore speedster should attack Horne from.
Cook sold the coaches on the right side of the box and she was correct, delivering a single down the right field line.
Warlick raced for third base on the hit and then trotted home with the eventual game winning run on a wild throw from right field that careened off the home dugout wall.
From there Stinnett's five years of experience in the circle took over.
The MTSU signee reached back and bore down like she has done in so many crucial situations in the past, retiring twelve out of the next thirteen Summertown hitters.
Stinnett kept the Lady Eagles off balance, mixing it up beautifully with eight of the outs coming on ground balls and just two strikeouts.
With two down and the bases empty in the bottom of the seventh, Stinnett whistled a low fastball that was popped-up into short right.
Second baseman Courtney Hollandsworth, who was back in the lineup after missing the region final with a head wound saw it off the bat and squeezed the final out with both hands, sending the Lady Rockets and their fans into a jubilant celebration.
Stinnett said, "I was nervous coming in here, you know young team. I am not going to lie. We didn't have the right mindset last game. We came in here win, lose, or draw and that kept us motivated. My outfielders really, really stepped up along with our bats and it got us through."
Forrest (26-5) will kick off the Spring Fling, playing in game number one at Murfreesboro's Starplex Field No. 4 versus old foe Friendship Christian (29-8) on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.
Since 2002, Forrest and Friendship Christian have spilt eight games.
In the early years of the decade it was the battles with the private schools such as Davidson Academy, Goodpasture, Columbia Academy, Ezell Harding, Friendship Christian, and Trinity Christian that fueled the Forrest fire for excellence, paying off with the dramatic title run in 2008 over TCA.
The public versus private school debate battle will rage on once again this year with the field evenly divided with Forrest, East Robertson (29-8), South Fulton (32-10), and Unaka (27-12) representing the public schools and TCA (43-1), Friendship Christian, University School of Jackson (17-17), and Grace Baptist Academy of Chattanooga (28-6) representing the privates.