Clutch – that word describes both the defensive play and the hit that keyed the Westview Lady Chargers’ 4-0 victory over the Meigs County Lady Tigers in the opening round of the TSSAA Class AA softball state tournament Tuesday night in Murfreesboro.
Kayla Guthrie’s two-run single gave the Lady Chargers a 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the third inning, before Katelyn Bowen preserved the lead with an amazing diving catch in the gap in the top of the fifth inning.
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third. While Meigs County (37-8) had runners in each of its first three at-bats, the Lady Chargers (29-14) were kept off the base paths until the third. Lady Tiger pitcher Brooke Melhorn walked WHS leadoff batter Mckenzie Norris. Westview head coach J.B. Suiter sent Maddison Henderson to first base as a courtesy runner for his catcher. Mary Kirk Mesimer then put down a sacrifice bunt to move Henderson to first.
“We did better at getting the bunt down, but we still had some key situations with a runner at third when we didn’t get it down,” Suiter noted.
Westview senior Shanna Chappell hit a smash that Meigs third baseman Ashley Shaver couldn’t handle, putting Lady Chargers on first and second. Kelly Gaston slapped a shot to third base, and Shaver ended up holding the ball and didn’t make a play at any base. With the bases loaded, Guthrie slapped a seeing-eye single up the middle just by the gloves of the Meigs pitcher, second baseman and shortstop. On the freshman’s hit, Henderson trotted home and Suiter waved Chappell around third and to the plate for a 2-0 Westview lead.
“That was huge,” the Lady Charger coach said of the decisive base hit. “There is a freshman who is a great competitor, a great ball player and who has a bright future ahead of her. To be the first one to get our team rolling, that says something about our team. We’ve got kids at different ages and at different spots who can get us rolling.
Meigs’ Melhorn got a strikeout and a groundout to strand Guthrie at second.
Both teams went down in order in the fourth inning.
The Lady Tigers threatened in the top of the fifth before Bowen’s incredible catch snuffed the threat. From the circle, WHS right-hander Shaylon Robb retired the first two batters on a strikeout and a fly to Gaston in right. Then Kirstie Jennings lobbed an infield single over Robb’s glove and in front of Guthrie at shortstop. Robb walked Shaver to put the tying runs at first and second and bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Courtney Combs. Combs ripped a sinking liner to the gap in right center field that looked like it would drop and plate both runs. From her position in center field, Bowen raced to her left and dove, snagging the ball just before it bounced off the turf. After sliding across the grass, Bowen lifted her glove to reveal the ball still nestled inside the leather. Instead of a Meigs rally, it was a Lady Charger on-field celebration as Robb raced to the outfield to congratulate and thank her teammate for preserving the 2-0 WHS lead.
“That’s the best catch I’ve seen anywhere,” Suiter concluded. “And, in a spot like that in the state tournament, what can I say? It was outstanding.”
After an error in the sixth, Robb stranded a Lady Tiger on second base.The Lady Chargers doubled their lead with two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Guthrie bunted for a single to open the home half. Bowen put down a sacrifice bunt that turned into an error on the throw to first. Guthrie advanced all the way to third on the miscue, and Bowen reached second base. Westview senior Ashley Bynum brought both of them home with a chopper over third base. She moved to second on the throw to the plate.
The Lady Chargers’ inning might have been bigger, but for an unusual double play. With Bynum at second, fellow senior Jenna Hazelwood legged out an infield single to third base. With the ball hit in front of her, Bynum had to delay advancing to third until after the throw to first. Meigs first baseman Combs fired a throw back across the diamond to Shaver who nailed Bynum with the tag before she could slide into third. Hazelwood tried to advance to second on Combs’ throw. After applying the tag, Shaver threw to second. It appeared Hazelwood reached the bag before the tag, but she was erased on a questionable call. The play likely cost Westview a run as Robb stepped to the plate and roped a single up the middle. After a groundout ended the inning, Westview led 4-0.
Meigs threatened again in their last at-bat. Lindsey Million led off with a single to left. Robb struck out a batter for the first out, but then Jennings placed a bloop single between Guthrie at short and Hazelwood at second base to put two Lady Tigers on the base paths. Shaver’s shot to third was fielded by Bynum who tagged Million for the second out. With two runners on, Robb induced a fly to right that Gaston gloved to end Westview’s 4-0 victory.
Robb also worked out of a jam in the first inning. A single, a hit batter and an error loaded the bases full of Lady Tigers with one out. Two fly balls that didn’t leave the infield ended the threat.
Robb also hit a batter in the second inning and walked a Meigs batter in the third. The mound veteran and her defense never let the Lady Tigers reach home though, stranding a total of 10 batters over her seven innings. Robb allowed just four hits while striking out six, walking two and plunking a pair. With the win, the junior improved her season record to 15-5.
“Robb pitched good enough to win. She didn’t look like her usual self. Her speed seemed a little off. I think even she would tell you that, but she pitched good enough to win,” Suiter admitted.
Melhorn took the loss for Meigs, just her fourth loss of the season compared to 25 victories. Melhorn gave up four hits while striking out two and walking one.
The win advanced the Lady Chargers to a match-up against the Camden Lady Lions, 2-0 winners over defending state champion Unicoi County, in their first round game.
“Camden and us have always had a pretty good rivalry as far as competitive games on the field, going back to last year when Bowen broke her leg, and we came back to win that game. We’re going to have to play a much more well-rounded game tomorrow night if we want to get a win,” Suiter noted of his next opponent.
The opening round victory is the first for Westview, after dropping its initial game in its previous three Spring Fling appearances.In other Class AA first round games, Covington blanked Chattanooga Central, 2-0, and Gibbs outscored Greenbrier, 6-4.