Lady Panthers get back on track to take Invitational title

Lady Panthers get back on track to take Invitational title
Lady Panthers get back on track to take Invitational title

On the winning track — The Martin Middle School Lady Panthers swept through their competition to earn the championship trophy in the Lake County Invitational Tournament over the weekend. Photo submitted
After wandering off the winning track, the Martin Middle School Lady Panther softball team resumed its winning ways just in time to bring a trophy home to Weakley County.
Martin began the season strong with a 5-2 start only to find themselves dropping four of the next five games to even their record at 6-6 heading into the Lake County Invitational Tournament held Saturday at Tiptonville.
With too many errors and a lack of run production, both players and coaches were beginning to question what it was going to take to get the team back on track, according to head coach Judy Suiter in her second year at the Lady Panthers’ helm.  
“Even though we felt we had a good defensive lineup, we kept committing mistake after mistake which left the door open too many times for the opposition.  During our slump, we committed 31 errors which contributed to our opponents being able to score 19 runs, only 7 of which were earned,”  Suiter noted.
The Lady Panthers were out-hit 27-17 and were shut out in two of those games.  
The only spark of offense was that of seventh-grader Kaycie Moultrie, who went on a seven-consecutive hit spree during the five-game set while averaging .333 at the plate. Meanwhile, the team bating average was a dismal .190.
Suiter went on to say, “One silver lining of the cloud was our starting pitcher, Becca Ussery, an eighth-grader. The seven earned runs are a testament to her performance and affirms that our defense and lack of team hitting wasn’t giving her the support she needed.  
“We continued to work hard with the ‘don’t quit’ attitude knowing we still had the ability to turn things around. Our practices focused on what we needed to do to make that happen.”
Turn things around they did as Martin won the Lake County Invitational Tournament by sweeping four consecutive games.
The Lady Panthers started the tourney by defeating Crockett Co. 7–5 and host Lake County 15-4  in pool play, which earned them a bye for the next round.
In semifinal play, MMS maintained its solid play, eliminating Dyer by a score of 11-2 to advance to the championship game versus Hillcrest Middle School.  
In the tournament final, MMS put one run on the board in the first inning, four in the second, four more in the third and three in the fourth inning while holding Hillcrest to only two runs on two hits to win the championship in four innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.  
Hillcrest had eliminated South Fulton in semifinal action, which set the stage for the match-up with MMS. South Fulton had entered the tournament undefeated and had handed Martin two of its season losses.
Going into the tournament with an average of five errors per game, the Lady Panthers defense played well, managing only two errors per game. The Martin offense also found a spark, outscoring its opponents. 45–13.
Assistant coach Laura Taylor added, “I am super proud of how our girls played — especially those last two games.”  
Other teams participating in the tournament included Ridgemont and Trenton.  
Becca Ussery picked up the four wins with Allie Cantrell contributing a couple of innings.
Late in the season, the MMS roster was short a couple of players — Gabby Nutting and Katelyn Totty.  Totty broke her growth plate and tore a tendon while sliding into second base in a game on Sept. 13. She was able to give moral support to her teammates by attending a couple of the games in Tiptonville.
Nutting has a brother serving in the military who was wounded in Afghanistan last week and was with her family. The Lady Panthers held a prayer for Gabby following the first game before exiting the field.
Martin will take its record of 10-6 into its last two games remaining in season with one today (Tuesday) against a Hillcrest team which is bound to be seeking some revenge for its loss in the tourney. Game time is 4:30 p.m. at the Martin Recreation Complex.   The final game for MMS is scheduled for Sept. 27 at Union City. 

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