In a long-awaited high school softball game, pitting two of the best Class AAA teams in Tennessee, Soddy-Daisy took advantage of four hits and five Riverdale errors to score eight unearned runs in the fourth inning and the beat visiting Lady Warriors, 8-0, on Sunday at Clifford Kirk Stadium.
With fans wearing heavy coats, gloves, sweat shirts with hoodies, toboggans and sitting under blankets to ward off a cold, gusting, flag-stiff wind warmed only slightly by bright sunshine at the hilltop stadium, the Lady Warriors’ defensive collapse – spurred by a controversial umpire’s call on a bunt – broke up a brilliant pitching duel between Soddy-Daisy's Kelsey Nunley and Riverdale’s Rachel Albritton.
“I expected it to be a close game and it was for three innings,” said Soddy-Daisy coach Clifford Kirk, who has 900-plus wins in his illustrious career that includes nine state titles, seven with the Lady Trojans. “And things started happening. I’d like them (big innings) every ballgame, but you don’t get them that often.”
Nunley, a University of Kentucky signee, hit three batters in the first inning but got a forceout and two strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded jam.
“I’ve never seen her do that,” Kirk said of Nunley’s three hit batsmen. “We’ve really been throwing her a lot and she wasn’t as sharp as she was earlier in the season. If that tells you anything, it’s this: don’t take her on when she is sharp.”
After that, Nunley was masterful, giving up two hits, including a fifth-inning triple by Katie Brown, striking out 12 and walking none while improving to 25-2 on the season.
With the shutout, Nunley’s ERA dropped to a microscopic 0.43.
“Even before the season began I knew this game would be big,” Nunley said, “because they’ve never really wanted to play us. Over the past week it’s all I’ve thought about – like, nonstop.”
Albritton, who will play collegiately at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, gave up six hits – four in in the disastrous fourth inning – and struck out seven and walked one while her record dropped to 26-6.
With all eight runs being unearned, Albritton’s ERA dipped to 1.05, but she still left the ballpark a bit dejected.
“To fall apart like that is very disappointing for us,” she said. “When those things happen you just can’t let them have it. We have to learn to fight back and not lay down. We have to bear down.”
Take away the fourth inning and the two teams possibly could have played all afternoon and not scored. Nunley and Albritton were that effective.
Include the fourth and Soddy-Daisy was able to make a strong statement that it will be a team to reckon with come postseason play.
“Although we were pumped, I know this is a regular-season game and has no importance, except for a win or loss,” Nunley said. “I was telling everyone not to let it go to their head or it could come back and bite us in the butt.”
The Lady Trojans (34-3) got a single by Savannah Moore to open the game-changing fourth. The next four batters – Haley Reynolds, Hannah Smith, Tori Denayer and Shana Ward – all reached on errors, rendering all the runs unearned. The first three Soddy-Daisy runs resulted directly from Lady Warriors miscues.
Olivia Williams and Morgan Bailey each had two-run singles in the inning and Reynolds – one of three Soddy-Daisy players to bat twice in the uprising – added an RBI-hit off Albritton.
“We can’t give a good team like Soddy-Daisy errors and expect to win,” Lady Warriors coach Jeff Breeden said. “And we gave them five in one inning and they blew us out. After that we didn’t answer very well and pretty much laid down.
“I thought Rachel pitched well. I don’t think they hit too many balls hard. It was basically we didn’t come to play defense.”
Here’s how the fourth went for Riverdale (37-8), the eight-time defending District 7-AAA champion:
Moore singled up the middle for the first hit off Albritton.
Reynolds popped up in front of the plate, but the ball came down between the converging Albritton and catcher Courtney Clark and went off Albritton’s glove.
Smith put down a bunt – clearly foul, but ruled fair – that third baseman Kristin Uselton booted. Uselton grabbed the ball and fired back to third, with shortstop Mattie Woodruff covering, but the throw was in the dirt and the bases were loaded.
“Oh, I could see it from the bench,” Nunley said. “It was foul. That was bad (for Riverdale), but we did keep it going after that.”
Breeden saw it the same way.
“It was clearly foul,” he said, “but it shouldn’t have (rattled) us because if my third baseman makes a good throw to third we still get an out from that a bad call.”
Then Uselton muffed Tori Denayer’s ground ball, allowing two runs to score.
Lady Warriors first baseman Caylee Porter scooped up Ward’s bunt, but threw behind second baseman Brooklyn Pendergrast covering first and another run crossed the plate. Suddenly, it was 3-0.
Jessica Boles struck out.
Bailey’s hit into the left-field corner scored two more, and the lead went to 5-0.
Williams singled in a run for a 6-0 lead.
“I wanted to get up there, kill the ball and score some runs,” she said. “I did not want to go back out there on the field without some runs.”
Moore struck out.
Reynolds kept the inning going with a two-run hit to left and the margin ballooned to 8-0 before Smith flied out to center on a hard-hit ball to end the Soddy-Daisy uprising.
“I don’t think in my (22-year) tenure of coaching a team of mine has ever given up eight runs or five errors in an inning,” said Breeden, who is 415-67-3 at Riverdale (his career mark is 756-185-3). “ So, I had a couple of firsts (Sunday).”
Denayer doubled leading off the fifth and went to third on a groundout, but was stranded there when Boles flew out and Bailey flied out to left.
Albritton struck out the side in the sixth.
“We were definitely pumped for the game,” Albritton said. “A lot of people want to beat Riverdale and a lot of people want to be Soddy-Daisy because we’re two good teams. When you have a game like this, it’s going to be a state tournament environment. They bring it and we have to bring more the next time.”
Nunley, now 3-0 against Riverdale in her illustrious career, settled down after the first inning and struck out six of the next seven before Uselton blooped a single into shallow left field with one out in the fourth. She stayed right there.
Nunley, who was 25-7 with an 0.78 ERA in 2011 when the Lady Trojans finished second in the state tournament, stranded Brown at third by striking out Taylor Lee and then retired six in a row over the final two innings.
“I mainly used my fastball in on them – far in,” Nunley said. “But I really felt good about my changeup. I usually don’t have confidence in that pitch because it sometimes gets a little high and scares me to death.”
Riverdale 000 000 0 – 0 2 5
Soddy-Daisy 000 800 x – 8 6 0
Albritton and Clark; Nunley and Bailey.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)