Lady Rockets gut out one-run win, two wins from title

Thursday, May 23, 2019
Kennedy Gillespie waits for the two-strike, outside pitch before lining the go-ahead RBI single to right field that put the Lady Rockets in front 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning versus Jackson South Side Wednesday night at the Spring Fling XXVI Spring Sports Championships in Murfreesboro.
Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

The mark of any championship squad is its ability to stand in and go toe-to-toe for seven rounds and the Forrest Lady Rockets did that Wednesday night as they eked out a 2-1 win over Jackson South Side to stand as one of two unbeaten teams in Class 2A at the Spring Fling XXVI Spring Sports Championships in Murfreesboro.

“Man that was hard, it made my heart beat a little bit,” Forrest coach Shelby Stinnett said. “We knew coming in that this would be a hard game.”

Forrest (35-5) takes on Lexington (46-4) tonight in the winner’s bracket final at the Starplex Complex in Murfreesboro with first pitch scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

“It’s still the same thing, one game at a time like I tell them,” Stinnett said. “Coming in tomorrow Lexington will be a totally different team with their girl having a little bit less speed and throwing changeups, so now we have to go back.”

“So we have to refocus on that, just play our ball and get our hitting going a little better, but man our pitching (Lauren Gillespie) is really holding us in there.”

Lexington beat Creekwood 1-0, sending the Lady Red Hawks to the loser’s bracket.

Lauren Gillespie, who picked up her third consecutive state tournament win in the circle Wednesday night, delivers a pitch to the plate as her defense gets ready for action behind her.

The Lady Rockets advanced to the winner’s bracket final because Forrest ace lefty Lauren Gillespie outdueled Jackson South Side’s Kayla Beaver in the circle, the delivery of an ultra-clutch two-out RBI single by Kennedy Gillespie in the bottom of the sixth inning, and an outstanding defensive effort by Chapel Hill that sealed the deal.

Lauren Gillespie picked up her third consecutive complete game win in the tournament, giving up one run (unearned) on two hits while striking out seven and walking three Lady Hawks’ batters.

Forrest only had six hits off Beavers with Jenna Blanton, Anna Blanton, Kaitlin Leverette, Laura Mealer, Ally Blanton, and Kennedy Gillespie all getting one base knock apiece.

The air was thick with anticipation at Murfreesboro as the game began with Jackson South Side’s MacKinley Shelton reaching on a leadoff walk and taking second on a sacrifice bunt by Kelsey Turner.

The Lady Hawks failed to score as Lauren Gillespie induced a pair of pop-ups to end the inning.

Jenna Blanton walked to start the home half of the first inning and stole second base.

Laura Mealer reaches for an outside pitch that she pulled down the left field line for an RBI double in the bottom of the first to put the Lady Rockets in the scoring column first.

It looked like Beaver would escape a jam as well, getting the next two outs before Mealer delivered a two-out RBI double down the left field line to make it 1-0.

Lauren Gillespie was stout in the top of the second, striking out the side in order and Beavers came back with a 1-2-3 home half of the stanza.

Both squads left a runner stranded on second base in the third inning and in the top of the fourth, the Lady Hawks tied the game with an unearned run.

Forrest went down in order in the bottom of the frame as did the Lady Hawks in the top of the fifth inning.

The Lady Rockets squandered a leadoff base hit by Ally Blanton in the home half of the fifth inning before Jackson South Side mounted a dire threat in the top of the sixth.

Kelsey Turner walked to lead off the inning and after a fly out, Anna Beth Taylor banged a single up the middle.

Kalani Kuroda drew a walk to load the sacks full of Lady Hawks when it happened.

Beavers stroked a sinking liner to center field that looked like the game-tying base hit, but Forrest center fielder Anna Blanton came out of nowhere with a diving catch and came up throwing to second where Mealer caught the ball and threw to Kennedy Gillespie at first base for the game-saving double play.

“All I was thinking was anything hit to me I was going to catch because the girls on second and third could not score no matter what,” Anna Blanton said. “I just read the ball and said to myself ‘no one is stopping me’ and I caught it.”

“After those plays we showed a lot of heart, honestly that team on paper is a good as we are, but the team with the bigger heart is what will take you far in this tournament.”

Forrest head coach Shelby Stinnett and assistant coach Ricky Stinnett talk hitting strategy with Jenna Blanton, Anna Blanton, and Kaitlin Leverette before the start of the bottom of the sixth inning.

The great defensive play buoyed Forrest and their travelling faithful as Jenna Blanton came up with a slap single to lead off the bottom of the sixth and promptly stole second base on a close play.

After a groundout, Leverette drilled a base hit to center field, putting Lady Rockets on the corners.

Beavers induced a pop-up for out number two before Kennedy Gillespie took a two-strike fastball the other way, lining an RBI base hit to right field to make it a 2-1 contest.

“I haven’t been hitting good all night, she was throwing me inside all night, she threw me three in and I knew she was coming out and I had to take it the other way because that was the only way we would score,” Gillespie said. “It was amazing, being a senior these could be my last few games so we have to go out with a bang and winning that game was really exciting.”

“We love the adrenalin and the closer the game is, the more hyper we get.”

Anna Blanton caught a fly ball for the first out in the top of the seventh before Mealer and Jenna Blanton came up with back-to-back great plays in the infield to seal the win for the Lady Rockets, who are now just two wins away from capturing their third state title.

“Lauren is throwing great, we gave them that one unearned run by rushing, being goofy, we are so fast sometimes we get aggressive on defense, so we have to tame that back a little bit,” Stinnett said.

“But Anna, what a play, I would dare to say that that play won us the ballgame, if that ball gets past two runs score and we are not standing here talking.”

Jackson SS 000 100 0-1 2 0

Forrest 100 001 X-2 6 2

Jackson South Side: Josie Willingham 1-for-3, Anna Beth Taylor 1-for-2.

BB: MacKinley Shelton, Kelsey Turner, Kalani Kuroda.

RS: Willingham.

2B: Willingham.

SAC: Turner, Taylor.

ROE: Shelton, Taylor.

LOB: 5

LP: Kayla Beaver (6IP, 6H, 2R, 2ER, 4K, 1BB).

Forrest: Jenna Blanton 1-for-2, Anna Blanton 1-for-3, Kaitlin Leverette 1-for-3, Laura Mealer 1-for-3, Kennedy Gillespie 1-for-3, Ally Blanton 1-for-2.

BB: Jenna Blanton.

RS: Jenna Blanton 2.

2B: Mealer.

RBI: Mealer, Kennedy Gillespie.

CS: Saryna Kurtz.

SB: Jenna Blanton 2, Addison Bunty, Kennedy Gillespie.

LOB: 4

E: Lauren Gillespie, Karley Daughrity.

DP: Anna Blanton, Mealer, Kennedy Gillespie.

WP: Lauren Gillespie (7IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 7K, 3BB).