Lady Rockets off to blazing start
The Forrest Lady Rockets (16-1, 4-0) are off to their best start since winning the school’s second Class A state championship in the 2014-2015 season when they won 14 consecutive games to start the campaign and finished with a 35-5 record.
Forrest won 12 straight games to start this season before losing 6-3 to 3A Lawrence County in a Saturday morning pool game at the Middle Tennessee Softball Coaches Association Tournament at Ridley Park in Columbia last weekend.
Undeterred, the Lady Rockets came back to sweep Centennial, Creek Wood, and Stewarts Creek before getting revenge on Lawrence County in the title game, shutting out the Lady Wildcats 5-0 to win the tournament.
“I am very excited about our players' determination and success this weekend,” Forrest coach Becky Cheatham said. “We were a little slow waking our bats up Saturday morning, but in the end we did what we needed to do as a team.”
Motlow Community College signee Samantha King is the lone senior on the squad and she picked up the win over Lawrence County in the title game to remain undefeated in the circle this year.
“King did an outstanding job on the mound in the championship game---as did Lauren Gillespie in the first game and in her second game of the day versus Creekwood (and Kayla Gillespie versus Centennial),” Cheatham said. “We are fortunate that we have a great pitching staff and a very good defense.”
In addition to King and Lauren Gillespie, the Lady Rockets incredible pitching depth also includes Kayla Gillespie and Caroline Warner, who pitched some Saturday and did very well.
Freshman Kaydee Todd is also a pitcher who hasn’t seen any live action yet this year, but has been key along with eighth-grader Ashley Milligan and the older pitchers in providing valuable live batting practice.
Forrest is undefeated and unscored on in District 9A play and versus all Class A opponents, while beating three out of state schools by a combined score of 23-3.
Offensively, this could be the most rounded squad the Lady Rockets have put on the field with a great mixture of power, speed and bat control.
“Every game it has been someone different who has stepped up offensively,” Cheatham said. “Katlin Leverette (Community transfer) provided some key power hits from the lead off position as did Jasmine Runk from the number two slot.”
Catcher Carson Warner is also having a tremendous year at the plate, along with King, Emma Stacey, Zoe Long, and Kayla Gillespie.
Upcoming star Laura Mealer has wowed everyone as the eighth-grader slammed two home runs at the MTSCA Tournament and more impressively, gutted out a gash on her finger to play flawless defense at the shortstop position.
“She (Mealer) was one tough cookie because she played after getting her fingers sliced open with a cleat against Muscle Shoals on Friday night,” Cheatham said. “Saying that she was exceptional at short while playing with her fingers split open would be an understatement.”
Mealer leads the Lady Rockets with three dingers for the season and has 17 RBI, tied for second with King and Warner.
Runk (20RS, HR) leads the squad with 20 RBI and has a hefty .500 batting average, tying her for team-high honors with Anna Blanton (18RS, 8SB)) and Leverette (24RS, 13RBI).
Warner is batting (.480, HR), Mealer (.447, 14RS), Stacey (.429, 16RS, 9SB), King (.378, 2HR), Long (.385, 17RS, 9SB), Kennedy Gillespie (.333, 6RS, 2RBI), Ally Blanton (.324, 13RBI, 13RS), and Kayla Gillespie (.297, 12RBI).
Forrest is very solid on defense and it showed over the weekend as Runk (who follows an endless list of great Forrest center fielders) made a diving catch in center in the title game to save the day.
“Jasmine made an outstanding diving catch in center field to help hold Lawrence County down,” Cheatham stated. “And Leverette (LF) and Zoe Long (RF) played very well defensively also. They tracked the balls and made on target throws to keep runners from advancing.”
Than you have the talented and speedy Blanton twins (Anna and Ally) added to the mix which almost definitely makes Forrest the deepest Class A team in the state.
The Lady Rockets also have two wins against 3A programs and five versus 2A schools.
“Quality opponents and the confidence gained from experiencing success in stressful situations will help us as we progress through our season,” Cheatham said. “Our attitudes will determine our altitudes.”
Forrest did not lose to a Class A school the entire year in the championship season two years ago and won 18 consecutive games in the final push to the title.
The Lady Rockets have been to the state tournament 12 times with three runner-up finishes and they won their first title in the 2007-2008 season when they went 37-7 and pulled off a loser’s bracket journey triumph over Cornersville before defeating defending champion Trinity Christian Academy in back-to-back games.
“We always have a goal of winning the championship in May, and if we continue to work and improve and play good competition; then we will certainly give ourselves a chance to advance deep into district, region and sectional play,” Cheatham continued. “We are very proud of the girls, but make no mistake there is still a lot of work to be done.”
The Lady Rockets turn back to one District 9A game this week at Community on Thursday before jumping back into the frying pan this weekend when they travel to Crockett Park in Brentwood for another always tough tournament.
“Everyone has contributed, whether it has been offensively or defensively or as our catchers Taylor Melton (junior Indiana transfer) and Riley Ward (freshman), who have warmed up our extra pitchers or has been a catcher during live batting practice,” Cheatham said. “Our scorekeepers, Myranda Dickens and Sara Browning do so much to help the girls and the coaches that I would be remiss not to mention their contribution.”
The Lady Rockets have five league games remaining and it doesn’t look like they will be deterred in their mission of capturing a third state title.
“I am confident that our girls will give their best effort to accomplish our goals, and they have families that support and encourage those goals as well,” Cheatham said. “We will not give in and we will not give up.”
MTSCA Championship Game
Saturday, April 1 at Ridley Park, Columbia
Lawrence County 000 000-0 2 4
Forrest 004 100-5 7 0
Forrest: Carson Warner 3-for-4, Emma Stacey 2-for-3, Samantha King 1-for-3, Ally Blanton 1-for-3
2B: Carson Warner
RBI: Laura Mealer 2, King
RS: Katlin Leverette, Warner, King, Zoe Long, Stacey
SAC: Kayla Gillespie
ROE: Stacey, Kayla Gillespie, Runk, Leverette
DP: Kayla Gillespie, Kennedy Gillespie, Laura Mealer
WP: Samantha King (6IP, 2H, 0R, 0ER, 3K, 3BB)