The sectional round of the TSSAA playoffs normally pits two pretty good teams against each other for the final step in qualifying for the state tournament and it’s usually a competitive contest.
That wasn’t the case at Sale Creek Saturday night.
The Lady Panthers improved to 33-5 for a berth in next week’s tournament as they cake-walked past the North Greene Huskies by an 8-0 final.
Junior right-hander Macie Stanfield was the ring leader in that victory parade as she hurled a no-hitter and struck out 14 batters.
She came thisclose to having a perfect game.
The only base runner for the Huskies came with two outs in the fourth inning when Abby Keys reached on an error by Sale Creek catcher Hannah Baskette.
In defense of the durable receiver, Keys hit a little pop in front of the plate. Baskette lunged forward to grab it, but the backspin on the ball caused a ricochet off her mitt and Keys was safe at first.
Other than that play, the Huskies barely made contact and never hit the ball out of the infield. Stanfield struck out the side in the first, fifth and seventh innings.
Meanwhile, the Sale Creek bats came to life in a hurry as the Lady Panthers bolted to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Two more runs in the second and one in the third extended the difference to 6-0 while a two-run, two-out double by Trinity Liner in the sixth provided the final margin of victory.
“I think that was my first no-hitter, but I felt good today and was hitting my spots better than normal,” the slender 16-year-old suggested afterward.
“I knew that they had a lot of speed and would probably play small ball, so it was important for me to be in control. This may have been my best performance of the season,” she added.
Legendary head coach Clifford Kirk was present for the game and had a seat right next to the Sale Creek dugout. He appeared to enjoy everything he saw.
“I thought we played well,” he said while using his walker to enter the field after the game had ended.
“We got an outstanding pitching performance and I think it was a no-hitter, but it looked good to me. I’m hoping to be in Murfreesboro next week and I think I’m getting better as I’ve traded my wheelchair for a walker,” he said in reference to the broken leg he suffered early in the season.
Kendra Mooneyham is one of the Sale Creek assistants who’s been doing a commendable job in Kirk’s absence.
“Macie has come close a couple of times, but I’m pretty sure that’s her first no-hitter this year,” Mooneyham began.
“I thought we played a solid game as we hit the ball well and played really good defense. We win most of the time when we swing the bats well. And we’ve done a lot of scoring with two outs and that’s always important,” she added.
Leah Campbell singled with one out in the first and went to second on another single by Stanfield. Shelby Sullivan then grounded to short, but the throw to third was not good and that allowed Campbell to race home with the first run.
Courtesy runner Sarah Gibson then scored on a wild pitch for a 2-0 lead while a groundout to short by Trinity Liner plated Sullivan with the third run.
Madeline Gentry walked to lead off the second, but was called out when she left the base too soon. Allison Smith grounded to short for the second out before Hall singled, stole second, advance to third on a wild pitch and scored on another single by Campbell.
Stanfield then ripped a double off the fence in center to plate Campbell.
Sale Creek then loaded the bases in the third as Madison Stott reached on an error, Madeline Gentry doubled before Smith got hit with a pitch to load the bases. Hall got the easy RBI with a walk.
North Greene starting pitcher Megan Whaley had gotten hit pretty hard in those three early innings, but she retired the side in order in the fourth before striking out the first two hitters in the fifth. Smith reached on an infield single, but the side was retired when she got thrown out trying to steal second.
Then in the sixth, the Lady Panthers wrapped up the scoring with two final runs.
Hall reached on an infield hit to lead off while Stanfield got hit by a pitch with one out. Sullivan then flied to center for the second out before Liner ripped a double to drive in the final two runs.
Hall, Campbell and Stanfield all had two hits for Sale Creek as the Lady Panthers finished with 10 for the game.
Hall, Campbell and Gibson all scored twice while Liner topped the list with three runs batted in.
While Sale Creek takes its 33-5 record to Murfreesboro, North Greene’s season ends at 15-19.
The Lady Panthers are the seventh team from the Chattanooga area to advance to next week's tournament in Murfreesboro.
Other qualifiers include Baylor and GPS in D-II-AA, Silverdale and Chattanooga Christian in D-II-A, Ooltewah and Walker Valley in AAA. An eighth will advance on Sunday as the Meigs County-Sequatchie County winner will also go.
NORTH GREENE 000 000 0 – 0 0 2
SALE CREEK 321 002 x – 8 10 1
Whaley and Keys; Stanfield and Baskette.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)