Resilient Lady Rockets win extra-inning thriller, advance to Class A title game
It seemed like a very large portion of Chapel Hill residents were at the big game on Thursday at the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's Spring Fling to urge their Lady Rockets on in the winner's bracket final of the State Softball Championships.
It turned out to be a game that will be remembered for decades to come as part of the rich history of the program---and maybe one of the most important.
Forrest and Grace Christian School from Knoxville battled for nine innings before the Lady Rockets broke through with four runs in the 10th inning in what turned out to be a 6-4 win.
Didn't back down
"I can't say enough about how pleased I am with the fact they didn't give up and didn't give in," said Forrest coach Becky Cheatham.
"There hasn't been any give up in them all year and there won't be any now."
The contest was highlighted with great defensive plays on the field by both squads, a superb pitching duel between Forrest's Katie Warrick and Grace Christian's Jessica Webb, some timely clutch hitting and a few controversial calls that eventually evened out.
"This was the most exciting and most nerve wrecking game I have ever played in, especially that 10th inning," said Warrick.
"It was an amazing feeling, we have some fighters on this team and I think we have the most heart and the most fight out of anyone here."
Forrest second baseman Piper Elmore, a defensive stalwart all season, turned the first of her two tag-and-throw-to- first double-plays in the game to get the Lady Rockets out of a jam in the bottom of the first inning.
"That has been Piper's game all year and I'll have to say she gets the team award for being the team player," said Cheatham.
"I have never had a player like her that accepts and buys into what we do and come up with plays like that every game."
Grace Christian broke through with the game's first run in the bottom of the second on an RBI fielder's choice by Rachel Lett, but it could have been worse if not for a heads-up defensive play by Forrest third baseman Jordan Yelensky, who fielded a ground ball and threw to home, getting Callie Kirkwood on a close call.
Forrest tied the game in the top of the third inning when Kelsie Darnell walked before scoring when Briar Mays singled and got hung up in an intentional rundown that allowed Darnell to slide under a tag at home.
There was no scoring over the next two innings as both squads made all the plays on defense.
In the top of the sixth inning, Kiyoko Puca beat out a grounder with one out, went to second on a wild pitch and scored two batters later on an RBI single by Samantha King.
The bottom of the inning began with another umpire's decision when Webb singled and was awarded second base on defensive indifference.
Warrick got the next two Lady Rams' batters out, but Brooke Wyrosdick came up with an RBI base hit, tying the game at 2-2.
Webb retired Forrest 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh inning before Elmore sent the game to extra innings in the bottom of the frame when she turned her second inning-ending double play.
There was only one base runner for both teams over the next two innings and the game almost ended in the bottom of the eighth inning when Kirkwood sent a deep fly ball to center field that looked like a walk-off home run.
However, Puca prolonged the game when she went back to the fence and snagged it for the inning-ending out.
The game went to the international tie-breaker format in the 10th, a rule that starts with the batter that made the last out the previous inning on second base with no outs.
For Forrest that runner was Rickee Gayle Carter, who had come in as courtesy runner for catcher Savannah Brothers the entire game.
Into the lead
Amanda Patterson got things started by ripping a leadoff single up the middle and taking second base on a no-throw.
Jordan Yelensky grounded a ball back to Webb, who threw to first for the out, but an errant throw by the first baseman in an attempt to catch Carter off the bag at third base ended up in media box in left field, allowing both Carter and Patterson to score on the dead-ball ruling, making it a 4-2 ballgame.
Darnell and Briar Mays followed with a back-to-back base hits and moved up one base each on a grounder to the right side of the infield by Puca.
Warrick came to the plate, trying to avoid the collar of four strikeouts in the game.
The senior lashed a base hit up the middle, scoring both Forrest runners to give the Lady Rockets a 6-2 lead.
Got it done
"I was confident when she (Warrick) was at the plate that the law of averages was with us at that point," said Cheatham.
"We all know what she has been able to do all season and in clutch situations, she is going to get it done."
Grace Christian did not go down without a fight, scoring two runs before the game ended on a grounder to Yelensky at third base.
Forrest 001 001 000 4-6 9 3
Grace Christian 010 001 000 2-4 9 1
Forrest: Briar Mays 3-for-5, Kiyoko Puca 2-for-5, Katie Warrick 1-for-4, Samantha King 1-for-4, Amanda Patterson 1-for-4, Kelsie Darnell 1-for-3.
RBI: Katie Warrick 2, Samantha King 1.
Grace Christian: Jessica Webb 2-for-5, Callie Kirkwood 2-for-4, Kristen Hunt 1-for-4, Ashley Ellison 1-for-5, Brooke Wyrosdick 1-for-4, Bethany Hunt 1-for-5, Olivia Ellison 1-for-4.
RBI: Kristen Hunt 1, Bethany Hunt 1, Rachel Lett 1.
WP: Katie Warrick
LP: Jessica Webb