Brook Womack – to no one's surprise – figured prominently in Central’s 4-3 non-district softball victory over visiting Ooltewah on Monday afternoon.
However, what appeared to be an innocuous walk to Danielle Shadden with two out in the fourth inning turned into a key moment in the game played before a good crowd on a sunny, mild day at Central High School.
“I thought it was crucial that Brook got the big hit,” Central coach Lee Anne Shurette said, “but I’m most excited about Danielle. She knew she needed to get on base and that walk was huge.”
With the Lady Owls leading 3-1, Central’s Alexis Grampp doubled to center to lead off the inning.
Bailee Caho popped out to second.
Britney Sylvester’s groundout moved Grampp to third.
In order to keep the inning alive, Shadden had to get on base.
She did, watching four straight pitches from Lady Owl pitcher Taylor Hicks sail out of the strike zone for the walk.
Womack, coming off a solid performance title by going 15-for-17 with two home runs, two doubles, a triple, four RBIs, six stolen bases and 10 runs scored as the Lady Pounders (10-4) won the Silver Division of Soddy-Daisy’s Trojan Invitational, worked the count to 1-1.
On the next pitch, Womack ripped a double to center to score Grampp and Shadden. Womack went to third on the relay throw to home and when the ball sailed past Lady Owls catcher Summer Williams, she raced toward the plate and slid head first across with the go-ahead run.
All of a sudden, the Lady Pounders had a 4-3 lead.
“When I’m halfway to second I look at coach (Shurette) and she waves me over,” said Womack, a Southern Illinois University signee. “At third, I went home on my own because the catcher lost the ball and I wanted to score.”
Ooltewah coach Norma Nelson agreed that the game turned on the walk to Shadden.
“We didn’t take care of business,” Nelson said. “We walked the number nine batter and brought up the best hitter they have. She gets a big hit, but then we throw the ball away at home and she scores.
“Besides that and not getting some bunts down I thought my kids played well. Those two batters put it to us. We had them.”
Ooltewah (4-7) got a leadoff single by Allie Jones in the fifth, but Lady Pounder right-hander Chasidy Ainslie struck out Taylor Hicks and Kaitlyn Hicks and retired Calli Cross on a grounder.
In the sixth, the Lady Owls put more heat on Central.
Williams singled to center and went to second on Elizabeth Novelli’s sacrifice bunt.
Ashunti Cooper flied out to left field.
Leadoff batter Kelsey Chernak singled the runner to third. Chernak advanced to second on the throw. Sloan Sullivan walked to load the bases.
Jones bounced back to Ainslie for the final out.
Ainslie retired the Lady Owls in order in the seventh to nail down the win.
“I thought I pitched pretty good,” she said. “I believe in myself and my teammates’ defense behind me.”
Ainslie struck out three and walked four and scattered seven hits.
The junior kept the Lady Owls guessing with effective use of a tantalizing changeup in key spots – no matter the count.
“When (the change) is working I have a lot of confidence in it,” Ainslie said. “I can throw it in any situation.”
Shurette said Ainslie “hung in there” throughout the game.
“She does exactly what we ask her to do,” Shurette said. “I think she’s one of the best pitchers in Chattanooga. She hits almost every spot. Strikeouts are nice, but we want the other team to hit our pitches and she’s excellent at doing that.
“The changeup makes her even more effective. She can throw it for a strike even if it’s a 3-2 count.”
Ooltewah got to Ainslie for two third-inning runs.
Novelli singled and went to second on Cooper’s sacrifice bunt. Chernak walked and Sullivan followed with a run-scoring single. Chernak scored when Jones reached on Brooke Eller’s fielding error in left field. Taylor Hicks drew a walk to load the bases.
Sullivan was later thrown out at the plate on a fielder’s choice by Kaitlyn Hicks and Cross grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat.
Cooper singled and Chernak walked with two out in the fourth and Cooper scored when Caho, the Central catcher, threw wide of first trying to pick off Chernak. Sullivan’s groundout ended the inning.
Taylor Hicks, like Ainslie, went the distance for the Lady Owls and gave up four hits, four runs, struck out four and walked two.
“This is frustrating because I think we’re better than we’re playing,” Nelson said. “We don’t help ourselves. These girls have all the ability in the world to turn it around, but they’ve got to decide that’s what they want to do.”
Ooltewah 002 100 0 – 3 7 2
Central 001 300 0 – 4 4 2
T.Hicks and Williams; C.Ainslie and Caho.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)