I have always been a positive person; a “glass half full” kind of guy. Even in the worst scenarios, I have always been able to see “the light at the end of the tunnel” or “silver linings” in the dark clouds of negativity. This has never been more evident than in the 24-0 shellacking my Brainerd High Lady Panthers softball team took from powerful East Ridge on Tuesday. The game lasted just three innings, after a 17 run first inning by the Lady Pioneers. I wasn’t surprised with the outcome, nor am I unhappy with it. The only real negative I found was the frustration level from my players.
On Wednesday, the day after the game, we go back to work, at practice, trying to get better. First of all, let’s put things in perspective. East Ridge is one of the best class AA teams in the state. They have a veteran team, full of players who are well coached, and who play a tough summer softball schedule. Pitcher Ashley Irvin is absolutely fabulous. She faced the minimum nine batters in three innings, striking out all nine. East Ridge should be a sure shot at a deep playoff run in May.
As for Brainerd, 15 players dressed out for the game and of those 15, 12 of them had never played fast pitch softball before. The first fast pitch game they ever saw, they played in. Brainerd also has no field to play on and the Lady Panthers are faced with hosting their home games at Warner Park. This is not nearly as big a problem as having no field to regularly practice on. In the three weeks of pre-season practice the TSSAA allows, the Lady Panthers were on a field just three times. Every other practice was held in the grass on the school lawn, weather permitting. They played no scrimmage games except for a student- faculty game this past Saturday. In the fall, 52 players signed up wanting to play softball. Brainerd currently has a roster of 17 players.
That sounds like a lot of negativity and it is. But, here are some positives. The Lady Panthers caught practically every ball hit within reach by East Ridge; only throwing errors or poor throwing judgment caused problems. Pitcher Jasmine Harvey pitched very well but she was without her regular starting catcher and the Pioneers scored a lot of runs on passed balls. Also, Brainerd never quit. They may have been tense and nervous, but they were never afraid. For the past two years, Brainerd has been forced to forfeit more games than they actually played, due to a lack of players, or the lack of ability to get them to their games. My main goal this season was to put a team on the field for every game, and right now, we’re 1 and 0.
The Lady Panthers will continue to struggle a bit, but they will also continue to improve. When pre-season conditioning began in November, the girls didn’t know which hand to put their glove on. Now, they catch it pretty well. When they learn to figure out where they’re throwing it, and when they actually throw it well enough to get the ball where they want it to go, they will be much better defensively. I hope that our team improves enough to be one of those teams, “you don’t want to play” when the district tournament begins in May.
Finally, there were 15 more positives from that opening loss against East Ridge; They all rode the bus back to school with me Tuesday night.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).