Young Tigerettes amid early season struggles
Marshall County coach Heather Denton put together a brutal early season schedule for the Tigerettes, opening the season was reigning District 12AA champion Cascade, who finished the 2015-2016 season with its first section berth in over 20 years.
The Tigerettes then traveled to Murfreesboro for the annual Southern Warrior Classic hosted by Riverdale High School spread out over a week at various locations across the city, including Barfield Park where Marshall County lost an 11-3 contest to Cleburne County (12-7), a 4A school from eastern Alabama near the Georgia border.
"We've played probably the hardest early season schedule in our school's history," Denton said. "We have played huge schools from Alabama, some huge schools in Tennessee, we played Riverdale a really close game, and we're fixin' to play Wilson Central. So we are definitely preparing our girls for district play."
The Tigerettes started off the early season tournament on Thursday night by facing a pair of 3A juggernauts, losing a tough 8-7 game against Riverdale (five state tournament appearances in the past 10 years, including the 2009 3A championship) before an 11-1 rout against a Bolton High School (seven 3A state tournament appearances from '02-'11) team that finished runner-up in District 14AAA in 2016.
Contests against top-notch 3A competition on Thursday seemed to take the wind out of the blue and white on Friday as the Tigerettes lost to 6A Wilson High School from Florence, Alabama 6-1 before losing an 11-1 blowout to Tullahoma to end the night.
Marshall County started anew on Saturday with an early morning game against Cleburne County from Heflin, Alabama and despite taking an 2-2 tie into the fourth inning and closing another gap to 5-3 in the top of the fifth, the Tigers scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth and two more in the sixth to win the game 11-3.
"Defensively we're just making too many mistakes on the field," Denton said. "Every time we give up an error the next girl gets a hit and that kills us every single time. So we're gonna have to tighten up the field."
Sophomore ace Brooklin Conger went the distance for the Tigerettes, throwing 13 first pitch strikes to go along with four strikeouts, but nine Tiger hits and four Tigerette errors doomed Marshall County who also left seven runners on base, including five in scoring position.
"We left too many runners on base," Denton added. "If we get a runner on second, we've got to score that runner, especially when there's less than one or two outs. So it's a little frustrating on that part not scoring those runs at the beginning of the game."
The Tigerettes were in prime position to draw first blood in the contest when Alli Hobbs walked, Hannah Davis reached on an infield single, and Taylor Walls was walked to load the bases.
Conger went to down swinging as Marshall County failed to capitalize on the loaded base opportunity.
Conger started out hot in the circle, sitting down the Tiger batters 1-2-3 to end the first inning in a scoreless tie.
Lexi Cashion drilled a two out double deep to the left field fence, but once again the Tigerettes failed to capitalize as Leah Hollingsworth popped up foul to the catcher to end the inning.
Chelsea Parker started the bottom of the second with an infield single, before Amber Parker knocked a double to center field to score the first run of the game for an early 1-0 Tiger lead.
Caitlyne Caffee drew a walk and Leighann Rogers hit a single to center to bring home Parker for a 2-0 lead, but Caffee was caught trying to score from second for the first out of the inning and Rylee Hiett hit into a double play from Hollingsworth to Walls to escape further damage heading into the third.
The Tigerettes finally awoke in the frame as Hannah Sheppard hit a shot to the right field fence for a double and Davis followed with a deep bomb to left field for the 2-1 score.
Conger drew a walk before Courtne Edde jacked a double to left/center to tie the game at 2-2.
Taylor Poteete struck out on the next at-bat to leave runners at second and third, leaving runners on base to end all three innings to start the contest.
Cleburne County started out the fourth inning with a walk and an error, setting up an Amber Parker ground rule double over the left field fence for the 4-2 lead, before Rogers brought home the third run of the inning on a sacrifice bunt, making it 5-2 Tiger.
Marshall County did not go down easily as Walls hit her first career home run on a two-out line drive shot deep over the center field fence to bring the score to 5-3.
"I was frustrated with myself because I got walked the first at-bat and struck out the second time," Walls stated. "Coming into the third at-bat I wanted on base with a hit. I wasn't thinking home run, I just wanted a hit, but that's what happened."
Walls’ homerun would be the last Tigerette score of the afternoon as Cleburne County tacked on six more runs to end the game one inning early due to the run rules of the tournament.
"We have a lot of room for improvement," Walls said. "We just have to have confidence. We have a lot of girls that get down on themselves really quickly, so we've got to gain more confidence and work harder in practice on our off days. But we're preparing for district with these tough, early games so it will work out in the end."
Marshall County 002 010-3 7 4
Cleburne 020 342-11 9 1
Marshall County: Hannah Davis 2-for-3, Leah Hollingsworth 1-for-4, Hannah Sheppard 1-for-3, Taylor Walls 1-for-2, Courtney Edde 1-for-3, Lexi Cashion 1-for-3
2B: Hannah Sheppard, Hannah Davis, Courtney Edde, Lexi Cashion
RBI: Walls, Davis, Edde
ROE: Annie Hawkins
E: Alli Hobbs 2, Davis, Cashion
LP: Brooklin Conger (5.2IP, 9H, 11R, 8ER, 4K, 5BB)