|SF has growing pains vs. champs
JACKSON — A youthful South Fulton squad got a first-hand look at what it hopes to grow up to be some day.
Members of the South Fulton team look on during Friday’s loss at Trinity Christian Academy.
Two-time reigning state champion and battle-tested Trinity Christian Academy ended the young Devilettes’ season on Friday with a 7-0 shutout in the Class A Sectionals.
The victory was TCA’s 40th of the season in 46 games and continued the Lady Lions’ march toward a possible third consecutive state title after they won 45 and 43 times, respectively, while claiming the last two single-A crowns.
SF (22-10), meanwhile, saw its 2008 campaign end with an 11th sectional berth in the past 12 seasons — though the Red Devils were denied the program’s sixth state tournament berth for the third time in the past four years.
Perhaps more important is that this particular group of Devilettes likely gained valuable seasoning that should be beneficial down the road as six eighth-graders, two freshmen and a pair of sophomores were among those to see significant time Friday as well as throughout the season.
“We came down here with the intentions of winning, but I also saw it as an opportunity for a lot of our kids to get exposure to these types of situations,” claimed Lee, who now has a 216-63 record in 10 seasons. “And we made some excellent defensive plays on several occasions that required good execution on the part of our kids.
“Unfortunately, though, we’ve probably faced two of the best pitchers in West Tennessee our last two games in (Ellen) Renfroe today and the (Brooke) Thomas kid at Huntingdon on Wednesday. And we just couldn’t generate anything offensively against either one of them.”
Renfroe, one of a trio of sisters and part of a one-two pitching duo along with sibling Ivy who is largely responsible for TCA’s recent success, struck out 13 and walked just one while giving up a lone hit to the Deviletttes’ Katie Bivens in the fifth.
SF did make better contact collectively than it did vs. Thomas two days earlier, but never had more than one baserunner in an inning and had just four in all. Bivens reached twice, in the second inning on Renfroe’s error, then in her next at-bat via a clean single up the middle.
South Fulton was guilty of just one error in the contest, though that allowed three of the Lady Lions’ tallies in a four-run third score when a fly ball was dropped in leftfield that essentially sealed the victory for the home team and gave them a 5-0 lead. A pair of two-out walks and two infield hits opened the door for TCA’s outburst.
Otherwise, the Devilettes did turn in a handful of fine plays defensively. Among those were a pretty stop and throw from the hole at shortstop by Kaci Daughtery in the second, a bullet throw to second by catcher Paxton Sisson that nailed a would-be base-stealer in the third inning and a perfectly-executed rundown between third and home that involved several players and cut down a Lady Lion runner on the bases in the first.
Perhaps the best, though, was a textbook relay from leftfielder Anna Seratt to Bivens to Sisson that nabbed Shelby Jones at the plate in the fourth.
SF’s only real chance at scoring came in the third when Michelle Johnson hustled all the way to third with two out after Renfroe threw away and into deep rightfield her slowly-hit comebacker. Daughtery, though, took a third strike to end the threat.
Looking — he said — to motivate his team to be more aggressive at the plate, Lee began a practice of removing players from the game who took call-third strikes after Daughtery’s at-bat. Starting pitcher Haley McKinney joined her on the pines an inning later, as did Seratt after the fifth.
“It was just an incentive for us to swing the bat,” the Devilette skipper said of his philosophy. “Pitchers like we faced today aren’t going to walk people often and to stand up there and just hope for one is an exercise in futility. I didn’t want them to just swing wildly at anything, but I wanted them to be aggressive.”
Lee then had words of praise for his largely inexperienced troops for their winning the district championship for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.
“We didn’t get accomplished what we wanted to today, but I’m proud of our girls for winning 14A against a good Union City team and that we were back knocking on the door of the state tournament again,” he said. “I want us to get over the hump that we haven’t been able to the last three or four years, but I actually think this group was even a little better than their final record shows.
“We just need to continue to work on the fundamentals and the little things to get right back here next season.”
Melissa Reams, who pitched three innings and gave one earned run in relief of McKinney, and Kaitlin Turner, who started in rightfield, were South Fulton’s two lone seniors.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.