The great experiment paid off for Happy Valley in opening game of the District 1-AA softball tournament on Thursday evening at Elizabethton High School.
Starting three freshmen and three sophomores, the Lady Warriors gutted out a 7-5 win over Sullivan East on Thursday evening.
Sullivan North rallied with four runs in the fifth inning to beat Johnson County 7-6 in the nightcap.
“They executed more than they had in the past and did what they had to do,” Happy Valley head coach Mike Dorsey said after his team improved to 12-19. “They did what I really expected them to do all year.”
Among the freshmen was Kalee Johnson, who started the day at first base, but moved to the pitching circle in the fifth inning. At the time, the Lady Warriors’ starter Brooke Simmons was clinging to a 6-4 lead with the tying run at the plate.
Johnson was undaunted by the pressure situation and gave up just one run over the final three innings to earn the save.
“She’s not a freshman anymore,” Dorsey said. “She threw well the other night against Cloudland, and I wanted to see if she could do it here. She’s a big kid now.”
Using the advice of junior catcher Kiara Coffey to throw to the catcher’s mitt and rely on her defense, Johnson gave up just one hit.
“My teammates believe in me, my coaches believe in me, so I just have to believe in myself and do it,” Johnson said. “You just have to take it as a challenge and do your best.”
Coffey led Happy Valley on the offensive end, hitting 3-for-4 with four RBIs against East pitcher Courtney Leonard. Lead-off Krisley Roberts ended 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
“I felt really confident before this game that we were going to come out here and do something,” Coffey said. “I just watched her first pitch and jumped on it. That was the one she was hitting us with and we were all watching it go by. Then, she wasn’t giving us anything more. I just took what I got and did something with it.”
Coffey started off the Lady Warriors’ scoring with a RBI single, followed by another RBI single by Allison Williams. Kaylee Street added a sacrifice fly for the 3-0 Happy Valley lead at the end of one inning.
Sullivan East (18-19) battled back with two runs in the top of the third.
Leonard had a two-run triple to score Karisa White and Madeline Standbridge. However, East failed to score more runs when Leonard was thrown out at home after a Simmons wild pitch.
Happy Valley pushed the lead back out in the bottom of the fourth. Kenzie Davis had an infield RBI single, and later Kiara Coffey had a two-run double as the Lady Warriors took a 6-2 lead.
The Lady Patriots wouldn’t go away, scoring three in the top of the fifth.
Brittany Scott doubled to start the inning and later scored on a wild pitch. Leonard added her third RBI and Ashlee Minor had a bases-loaded walk to close within one run.
Happy Valley added an insurance run off Williams’ RBI double in the sixth.
Leonard suffered the loss, despite aiding herself with a 3-for-4, three-RBI effort. White finished 2-for-2, and reached base all four times for the Lady Patriots.
Happy Valley faces top-seed Unicoi County in today’s action. Sullivan East will face Sullivan North in an elimination game.
“I didn’t feel we should have been in fourth place,” Dorsey said. “I felt we should have been at the top all year long. We have to prove it tomorrow.”
Sullivan North 7, Johnson County 6
The Lady Raiders (4-23) rallied with four runs in the top of the seventh inning to upset the Lady Longhorns (14-16).
Victoria Cradic gave North the go-ahead runs with a two-run double. It came after back-to-back RBI hits by Shaya Fortner and Logan Blakely.
With the game on the line, Fortner retired three straight Johnson County batters in the bottom of the seventh.
“We just came out and played and felt like we had nothing to prove,” North head coach Rachel Norris said. “We weren’t nervous about it and that was the big key. When we’re relaxed, we play well.”
All of Johnson County’s runs were driven in by its six through nine batters.
Kresten Roark in the nine-hole went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Hope Nelson and Haley Miller each ended 2-for-3 with a RBI, while Brianna Snyder added a RBI ground out.
North will play host Elizabethton in tonight’s nightcap.