The Lady Bucs had the best record (6-1) of any local team in last weekend’s Eastman Invitational tournament in Kingsport, although their only loss came at a bad time, a Round of 16 elmination game against Daniel Boone.
The Lady Bucs are led by a senior class which has the experience of two straight state tournament appearances and a first ever win at the state last season.
“That group has come together really well,” University High head coach Keith Jeffers said. “One of the things that is helping us right now is their experience. They’ve been there and done that.
“But, we’ve got a long ways to go. We just have to prepare and keep getting better every game.”
Barrett Wherry is a strong-armed center fielder and also the team’s leadoff batter. She is among the team leaders in both RBIs and runs scored, although Wherry is best known for her performance at last season’s state tournament. She hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and accounted for six RBIs in an 11-5 victory over South Fulton. The victory at the Murfreesboro Starplex was the program’s first ever in the Class A tournament.
“My home runs were great, but I loved that we were able to win as a team,” Wherry said. “It was exciting to win our first game ever at state. We have everyone back from that team but our starting pitcher, so we’ve gotten closer than we were last year.”.
Taylor Treadway is a third baseman whom her coach said has a glove like a vacuum cleaner at times. She’s also pretty effective on the offensive end with a team-leading 25 runs scored. She also ranks third in RBIs behind Ari Ramsaran and Wherry. More than stats, Treadway said chemistry and commitment set this senior group apart from so many other teams.
“I think all the seniors are pretty close and all of us are really committed,” Treadway said. “All of us know what we are capable of, so we know the goals set for us.”
A big goal is a return to the state, although their head coach said that alone will not determine how successful this season is. He wants them to simply focus on one game at a time.
It’s a strategy that has worked so far with UH piling up wins against several larger schools including victories over David Crockett and Tennessee High from the Big Seven Conference.
“We’re very confident going into any game,” Treadway said. “We know what we’re capable of and we never go into a game intimidated. Their school might be bigger than ours, but it doesn’t mean they’re better.”
Belle Bright, the talented catcher, fractured her thumb and wrist catching a foul ball on Saturday and didn’t get to play in the Boone loss. She is expected to recover from the injury and be back on the field in three weeks. She is certainly a big prescence for University High, the team leader with eight doubles. She also ranks second on the team in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Most important has been her job on the defensive end, catching for Johnson City Press All-Northeast Tennessee selection Haley Faulkner last season and for Tanner Horton, who has compiled a 16-3 record so far this season.
Bright explained that catching for each of them presented different challenges.
“Haley is more speed, while Tanner is more movement,” Bright said. “Tanner just hits her spots really well. But, both are really good pitchers.”
Kutu Hall is more of a role player, but she’s made the most of limited opportunities with a .421 on-base percentage. Behind the scenes, coaches and teammates say she plays a valuable role making sure everyone is prepared and ready to go.
“I try to make sure everyone is at a good place with their attitudes,” Hall said. “It matters what you carry on to the field with how you play. Attitude is everything in this sport. We’ve had a couple of rough patches, but we’ve been able to come together and play as a team when we’ve needed to.”
Attitude is something that Bright emphasized as well.
She explained how the Lady Bucs have more confidence than a season ago, and with that she feels they have a better overall team.
Overall, the class has been a part of 89 wins as well as last year’s historic postseason run. Right fielder Sarah Higginbotham is proud of how the group has helped elevate an already good UH program, which has five state tournament appearances over the last nine years, to the next level.
“Keith and (assistant coach) Joe (DeGroat) have been the best coaches,” Higginbotham said. “All the seniors have been working hard to get to this point. Overall, we have a good starting nine and some good back-ups. We’re really proud of how far we’ve come.”