MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Sale Creek had its sight set on making some softball history Friday.
The Lady Panthers reached their first TSSAA state softball championship with a 3-1 victory over Cascade, powered by a Trinity Liner three-run homer on her 18th birthday.
A few hours later, they wanted to beat Summertown and set up a second title game for all the marbles.
The Lady Eagles spoiled Sale Creek’s title hopes with a 7-5 victory, making sure the champion’s plaque would be headed west and not to Northern Hamilton County.
Summertown (36-6) built a 7-1 lead, but Sale Creek (37-7) rallied with four runs in the sixth inning, but failed to muster any more offense off the Lady Eagles’ Kaley Campbell in the seventh.
“We felt inspired after scoring four times in the sixth inning,” said Sale Creek third baseman Kristen Sharp, who smacked a two-run double in the rally. “We came back by hitting, hitting and hitting. We almost did it, but there’s always next year. We came over here to make a statement, and I think we did.”
Hannah Hall opened the sixth by drawing a walk and Leah Campbell flied out to left. Macie Standifer reached on an infield error and Shelby Sullivan’s single sent Strickland to second and Trinity Liner’s double pushed Standifer home.
Sharp followed with her two-run double to right
It was Liner that won the Cascade game with a clutch three-run homer in the eighth inning.
“I thought we could take this game in the seventh after scoring in the sixth,” assistant coach Eric Sullivan said. “Our rally just came a little late. Before the game we felt confident; the girls were pumped up and ready to go. We’re all proud of every one of the girls.
“This is Sale Creek’s highest finish ever and we’ve got only two seniors, so I think we’ll be back next year.”
Stanfield belted a solo home run in the top of the first inning, but Summertown pitcher Kaley Campbell retired the next seven and 10 of 11. The Lady Panthers gave her fits in the sixth, though.
In the seventh, Campbell struck out Hall and Campbell singled to right. An infield grounder by Stanfield forced Campbell at second and Sullivan grounded out to end the game.
“If you’re playing a good team, it’s hard to come back,” veteran coach Clifford Kirk said. “I’m proud of all the girls.”
Will Kirk be back next year?
“Counting this year, I think I’ve got three years left in me,” he said.
Summertown’s primary offensive philosophy revolved around bunting in the early innings. They just kept coming. Combined with the bunts and Sale Creek errors, the Lady Eagles scored twice in the second inning on Haley Durham’s single and an error by starting pitcher Madison Stott.
In the third, Summertown added four more runs, and again bunts figured prominently.
Anisten Burleson reached on an error and Caiti Gallaher reached on an infield single. Brookly Gabel’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third. Lucy Ballinger’s hit loaded the bases. Durham followed with run-scoring hit and the Lady Eagles still hadn’t gotten a ball out of the infield.
“We couldn’t field a bunt at all,” Standifer said. “Even though we prepared for that, we weren’t mentally ready to field them. We tried to brush if off after three or four, but it really was frustrating.”
Durham scored the fourth run in the rally when Reily Brazier grounded out.
Summertown pushed the lead to 7-1 in the top of the sixth. Jenna Brazier singled to left and stole second and third. She came home on Gallaher’s bunt single.
“They small-balled us all day,” coach Sullivan said. “Defense is normally our strong suit, but today we just didn’t get the job done.”
In the morning opener and after battling Cascade in a seven-inning scoreless tussle, all the scoring occurred in the eighth inning. It was Liner’s home run, coming on her 18th birthday, enabled the Lady Panthers to roll in the title game against the Lady Eagles, who beat Sale Creek, 7-1, in Thursday’s winner’s bracket final.
A few hours later, the Lady Panthers took care of Cascade and the joint – uh, Sale Creek’s dugout – was hopping.
“We’re going where Sale Creek has never been before,” coach Clifford Kirk said. “And that’s to the state championship game. I think that’s the case.”
Kirk asked how Ooltewah’s game against Walker Valley in the Class 3A in an elimination game nearby and was told the Lady Owls lost 5-2 and their season had ended.
“Well,” Kirk said. “We’re the only one standing right now.”
Actually, Silverdale was battling Tipton-Rosemark on an adjacent Starplex field in the Division II-A title game. Silverdale went on to beat Tipton-Rosemark, 6-4, to capture the Lady Seahawks’ first state title a few minutes later.
After clashing over seven innings, highlighted by the pitching duel between Stanfield and Brooke Sudduth.
The complexion of the hard-fought game suddenly changed.
Stanfield singled to right field. Shelby Sullivan walked. Liner, who transferred from Baylor, was up next.
She took a ball.
Liner hit the next pitch over the fence in dead-center field for what turned out to be the game-winning blast, and the victory celebration began.
“I knew I had to get a hit,” Liner said. “I’ve won two state championships (at Baylor) and I want my Sale Creek teammates to feel what that’s like.”
The pitch Liner hit out was up in the strike zone and was a rise ball that didn’t rise.
“It just looked good to me,” Liner said. “I knew it was gone.”
Said Kirk of the dramatic blast, “I thought she’d hit the ball somewhere; I certainly didn’t know it would be a home run. You just can’t predict something like that. Once the ball was off the bat I said, ‘That sucker is gone.’ ”
The Lady Champions had one last chance in the bottom of the eighth to avoid the loss.
Bailey Ledbetter singled.
Kailey Snell grounded out.
Stanfield induced a ground ball from Sudduth and the Lady Panthers’ defense turned a game-ending double play.
“This feels so amazing,” Liner said. “This is going to give us so much confidence going into our next game with Summertown. I think we’re the better team; we just have to play our game and play well.”
Both pitchers went the distance and each gave up six hits. Stanfield struck out three and walked two.
Sale Creek 000 000 03 – 3 6 0
Cascade 000 000 01 – 1 6 0
Stanfield and Baskette; Sudduth and McAnally.
Summertown 024 001 0 – 7 11 1
Sale Creek 100 004 0 – 5 6 3
Campbell and Gallaher; Stott, Stanfield (3) and Baskette.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)