Blue wave swamps Panama City
It was an incredibly prideful feeling, witnessing the blue Tennessee wave that swept Panama City Beach last week.
The Forrest Lady Rockets, backed by a living caravan of supportive and boisterous Chapel Hill fans, rolled to a pair of run-rule wins on Monday and Tuesday before coming from behind to beat a stout 5A Rutherford Rams squad 10-6 on Wednesday.
Forrest (9-0) last went undefeated on its Florida trip in 2008 when they went on to claim the Class-A state title in magical fashion, fighting out of the loser's bracket before beating an overconfident Trinity Christian Academy on back-to-back days.
Shelby Stinnett, Gaby Bussell, and Brianda Elmore, all integral members of that championship squad were on hand in Florida to witness their alma maters' undefeated run.
"Pride is a good word to describe my feelings as a past player of Forrest softball," said Stinnett. "Forrest softball is my home and it's a great joy to see the girls honor the tradition of a great program."
"In the end, Forrest softball is a family of the past, present, and future players and I get no greater pride then seeing the girls honor the tradition this past week in Florida."
Stinnett, now in her first full season as Forrest assistant coach, holds the Tennessee Scholastic Sports Athletic Association (TSSAA) record of most state tournament appearances in the circle and is now mentoring Katie Warrick, who has all nine wins for the Lady Rockets this season and seems much more confident and polished with Stinnett's guidance.
"Katie and I spent most of the off season getting stronger physically and emotionally," said Stinnett. "My goal was to get Katie mentally prepared in the circle and give her the tools to be a dominant pitcher."
"She is one of the most dedicated players that has come though the Forrest Softball program and my goal was to make her feared on the mound, not just in the batter's box."
Elmore, known as a clutch hitter and don't stick your finger in my face kind of player was in the same role last week, providing an added growl to the team.
"I feel it was kind of a flashback to seven years ago," said Elmore. "It's not an easy road to come down here and win games, especially the way that they did it, plus they were having fun a lot like we used to do."
"I'm looking at it now in the sister perspective (Piper Elmore) and as a fan of the Lady Rockets and this team is eerily similar to that 2008 team with the speed at the ends and the top and the meat in the middle."
Bussell is now the athletic trainer for the Lady Rockets and was the lone senior on the 2008 squad, donning her cap and gown on the Starplex diamond after the game, becoming the first player ever to receive her diploma on the field in Murfreesboro.
In game one at Mosley, the Lady Rockets gave up a lone run in the first inning before pounding the Lady Dolphins with 11 unanswered runs in a big 14-hit attack as Briar Mays, Kiyoko Puca, Warrick, Samantha King, and Savannah Brothers all came up with two hits apiece in the run-rule win.
As a former player I was proud to see the girls not playing down to our opponents level and overcoming adversity," said Bussell. "During the first game it would have been very easy for the girls to become sloppy, but they were able to keep their level of intensity to high standards."
The Forrest junior varsity squad also won big at Mosley in its only game of the trip, winning 23-0.
In the second game at Walton High School, the Lady Rockets scored two runs in the first inning via the small ball attack.
Warrick's dominance in the circle and some great defense kept the game close, but once again the Lady Rockets exploded late, scoring five runs in the fourth inning and seven more runs in the fifth to close out the Lady Braves 14-1 in a 21-hit barrage.
"The second game the girls came in and played Forrest softball and executed the small ball game very well by laying down bunts and getting the drag bunts down," said Bussell.
The final game was going to the toughest contest for Forrest as 5A Rutherford came in with a 16-4 record and Elmore knew that playing on their home field was going to be a challenge in such a hostile environment.
"I feel like that was the biggest moment I had going back, I hadn't played at the other schools, but I did play at Rutherford where I hit one out in my junior year," said Elmore.
Forrest took an early 1-0 lead before Rutherford came up with four runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Warrick drilled a long game tying homerun in the top of the fifth inning and from there, Forrest went on to score two runs in the sixth to take the lead and four more in the seventh to add to the cushion for Warrick in the circle.
"The last game against Rutherford was tough and was more of a mental game," said Bussell. "The girls came in scoring the first run which was awesome; however when the other team went up 4-1 it would have been very easy for them to lay down and give up."
"The opponents crowd was also a big factor, but once Katie hit that homerun the girls had a little swagger about them and took care of business for the remainder of the game. That little bit of swagger will help the girls advance this year and hopefully to the same spot I was seven years ago."
Forrest still has a long way to go with some tough games ahead before even thinking about the Spring Fling and another state title.
"You don't give up when things get hard and you definitely never give in," said Stinnett. "This motto has been preached and passed along throughout the years, but I see a fight in this team similar to the 2008 state championship team."
"Furthermore, the Forrest softball program is not a easy program to be apart of because it takes discipline, dedication, and a whole lot of heart and these are the qualities the 2008 state championship team possessed and I'm proud to say these group of young ladies are on the right path."
Forrest at Mosley, Florida
Forrest 021044-- 11 14 0
Mosely 100000 -- 1 5 3
Forrest: Briar Mayes 2-for-3, Kiyoko Puca 2-for-4, Katie Warrick 2-for-3, Samantha King 2-for-3, Savannah Brothers 2-for-3, Jordan Yelensky 1-for-4, Piper Elmore 1-for-2, Kelsie Darnell 1-for-2, Mikayla Feller 1-for-1.
Mosely: L. Haynes 2-for-3, C. Whitaker 1-for-3, J. Fuqua 1-for-2, A. Thomas 1-for-2.
WP: Katie Warrick
LP: L. Haynes
Forrest at Walton, Florida
Forrest 20057-- 14 21 0
Walton 00010 -- 1 10 3
Forrest: Kiyoko Puca 4-for-4, Katie Warrick 4-for-4, Briar Mayes 3-for-4, Samantha King 2-for-4, Jordan Yelensky 2-for-3, Kelsie Darnell 2-for-2, Savannah Brothers 1-for-4, Brooke Paul 1-for-2, Piper Elmore 1-for-2, Lainey Mays 1-for-1.
Walton: J. Lamb 2-for-3, M. Morse 2-for-3, H. Poole 2-for-3, S. Early 1-for-2, J. Larrick 1-for-3, K. Mosley 1-for-2, K. Bogart 1-for-2.
WP: Katie Warrick
LP: H. Poole
Forrest at Rutherford, Florida
Forrest 1000324--10 11 0
Rutherford 0004002 --6 12 2
Forrest: Samantha King 3-for-4, Briar Mayes 2-for-4, Katie Warrick 2-for-4, Kiyoko Puca 1-for-3, Kelsie Darnell 1-for-1, Savannah Brothers 1-for-4, Lainey Mays 1-for-4.
Rutherford: Curstin Taylor 2-for-3, Emily Enast 2-for-3, Abbie Barron 1-for-3, Micah Pledger 1-for-3, Taylor Todd 1-for-3, Karissa Pledger 1-for-3, Taylor Leahy 1-for-3, Destinee Brown 1-for-2, Bri Moses 1-for-1, Meghan Wallace 1-for-1.
WP: Katie Warrick
LP: Curstin Taylor