The Whitwell girls, the "other team" in Wednesday drama at Sale Creek, had a lot to ponder in the 24 hours between Sale Creek coach Clifford Kirk's collapse and the resumption of play. Not surprisingly, the girls and their coaches found different ways to cope.
"It was a lot to take in," said Whitwell pitcher Riley Long following her team's interrupted, 5-1, victory in the Region 3-A championship. "But that's what we had to do. The main thing is that he's okay."
There would be, could be, no way of telling how the two dozen or so teenage girls who comprised the two teams would handle the drama, the pressure and not least of all, the interruption of their tough, tight game, which was 1-1 in the seventh when the competition became something altogether different with Kirk's sudden collapse.
By mid-morning Thursday, both sides knew that Kirk was recovering from what is beginning to look like a misfiring pacemaker and that the game would go forward that afternoon. Kirk's attack occurred at the emotional high point of the game, as his Sale Creek squad had the winning run at second base with only one out. That brought Whitwell coach Grace Pickett to decide to distract her kids with Xs and Os.
"All we did all day was talk softball," said the veteran coach, one who has gone to battle against Kirk's teams for years. "We went over every possible play, every scenario we could think of, to try to be ready for it. Then, of course, what happened was something we hadn't planned for."
Long, who overcame a serious back problem just to play this season, had a restless night herself.
"I was up 'dl 1 a.m., replaying everything that happened," she said. "It was a tough situation, but I trust my defense to be there for me. They were today.'
The junior right-hander began with a full rush of adrenaline, striking out Savanna Weaver. But then came the unexpected -- a dropped third strike, allowing the runner to reach first without a throw to keep the lead runner at third. Sale Creek acting head coach, assistant Kendra Goforth, had talked to Kirk that afternoon and had a headful of ideas of how to proceed. So with one out and runners at the corners, she had Weaver running and Kirby Webb swinging away. Whitwell third baseman Kelcey Kilgore made the play on the short fly ball and doubled the runner off first to end the inning.
The dramatic momentum shift was exploited to the fullest by the Lady Tigers -- in no small part because their gifted shortstop Alyssa Coppinger, led off the eighth. She stunned the Lady Panthers' crowd with a ringing double, and in a matter of moments moved to third on a perfect sacrifice, bunter Roberts reaching on a fielder's choice, and scored on Haley Andregg's single. Kathleen Sledge followed that with a two-run double into the left-center gap for a 4-1 lead.
A Sale Creek pitching change brought starter Brittany Lanham back, but she allowed another RBI, this to Kacee Hedrick, before restoring order.
Long finished off her eight-inning complete game by pitching around a two-out single to Lanham, leaving the Lady Tigers in a position to host Trousdale County in a sectional game Saturday night at 8:00 Eastern. Sale Creek will board a bus for Gordonsville Friday.
In other sectional games set for Friday, East Hamilton hosts Bledsoe County at 5:30, Meigs County plays at Upperman and Soddy-Daisy plays yet another road game at Smyrna.