MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Sale Creek’s Lady Panthers won big Tuesday.
They proved Wednesday they can win close games as well.
Sophomore right-hander Madison Stott threw a four-hit shutout, junior Macie Stanfield delivered a two-run double in a three-run first inning and Sale Creek beat Unaka, 3-0, in the TSSAA Class 1A state softball tournament.
The Lady Panthers (36-5) advanced to the winner’s bracket final on Thursday on Starplex Field 4 at 5:30 p.m. CT. Sale Creek will take on Summertown (35-6), which knocked off Cascade, 3-0, right before coach Clifford Kirk’s squad took the field.
Sale Creek has won nine straight games and 14 of its last 15 in a postseason surge that has the Lady Panthers two games from a state championship.
“I felt in control and I knew the team had my back,” said Stott, who went the distance and recorded five strikeouts and two walks. “The early runs were exciting. We like to jump on teams early and when we got three runs I was more relaxed.”
Only twice did Unaka put two runners on base in the same inning. The first came in third inning when Taylor Shanks led off with a single and Erica Potter drew a two-out walk. Stott struck out Katlyn Weaver to end the threat.
In the fifth, Taylor Shanks reached on an infield single and Savannah Tipton followed with another infield hit. Sarah Tipton lined out to Stanfield, playing shortstop, and she fired to first baseman Madeline Gentry for the inning ending double play.
“The umpire was tough with the strike zone,” said Kirk, who watched the game in a wheelchair while he continues to rehab from a broken hip. “She hung in there, didn’t allow any runs and did a great job.”
In closing out the game, Stott retired seven of the final eight she faced. Sophia McMinn walked, but Stott retired Lilly Kiser on a ball back to the circle, Tayla Potter struck out and Shanks grounded out.
The Lady Panthers, who beat Houston County, 12-2, on Tuesday, struck quickly with their bats.
Hannah Hall and Leah Campbell each walked to start the game and Stanfield ripped her two-run double to left-center field.
It could have been more.
Sale Creek left the bases loaded. In all, the Lady Panthers stranded 13 runners. There was at least one runner on base in every inning.
“The early runs were big,” Kirk said, “but we left runners all over the place. Sometimes, that can come back and bite you. We didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities we had tonight, especially early in the game.”
The Lady Panthers left eight runners on base in the first three innings.
Stanfield made sure the stranded runners didn’t haunt Sale Creek on this night.
In the second inning, Hall again started the inning and reached on an infield single. She stole second and moved to third on Leah Campbell’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a Unaka error.
“Macie is one of our top two or three hitters,” Kirk said. “There was one streak when she struggled, but she’s come back strong; bang, bang, bang.”
Stott was thrilled to get the early lead.
“It was exciting,” she said. “I think we needed a few more runs to be secure.”
Stanfield said, “When you pitch with a lead, you can pitch with more confidence. Everybody seems to be more excited and we felt pretty good with the three runs and I could tell they helped Madison. (Thursday) we’ll have to bring out ‘A’ game and be ready to get after Summertown. They have a good team.”
Sale Creek 210 000 0 – 3 7 0
Unaka 000 000 0 – 0 4 1
Stott and Baskette; Schuettler and Weaver.
(Contact Larry Flemng at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)