Mollee Cohee drove in the game-winning run for University High.
Neither rain, nor lightning, nor one inning of shaky defense could keep University High from delievering the goods against Coalfield in Friday’s Class A softball sectional at Betty Basler Field.
Behind an 11-strikeout performance by Tanner Horton and a game-winning double by Mollee Cohee, the Lady Bucs outlasted a lengthy weather delay and overcame the Yellow Jackets rallying from four runs down to take a 5-4 victory.
“That rain delay, that’s hard,” University High head coach Keith Jeffers said. “It was like starting over, even though we were up. I give Coalfield credit with the way they stormed back.”
University High held a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when the game was stopped, first for lightning and then for heavy rain.
Near three hours later, play resumed and the Lady Bucs (27-13) clinched their third state tournament appearance in four years and their fifth in the last nine years.
The weather wasn’t the only twist.
With Jeffers opted to use Horton as starting pitcher instead of senior ace Haley Faulkner. The strategy worked with the sophomore striking out six and giving up just one hit through three innings before the delay.
She lost a 4-0 lead in a fifth-inning when the Junior Bucs committed three errors, but she stayed in the game, giving up four hits and four walks overall.
She finished the seventh inning by striking out two of the three batters she faced.
“I had a little bit of an adrenaline rush going on and stayed pumped up,” Horton said. “I never got too worried when they came back because I have faith in my team. My pitching coach tells me to never give up, not matter what the circumstances. I try to follow by that and not lose any hope.”
With the game tied, Taylor Treadway doubled in the bottom of the fifth and Cohee followed with her own RBI double, which proved to be the game-winner.
“That pitch was right down the middle and I was thinking we needed a good hit to at least get her to third,” said Cohee, who ended 2-for-3 with two RBIs. “The plan was just to put it in play and hope that something good happens. It was really important for us to come back out and be strong.”
In the first couple of innings, it looked like UH was going to run away.
Lead-off batter Barrett Wherry was 2-for-2 in the early going, which included a RBI double and two runs scored.
Wherry singled and later scored off a fielding error for the first run. Cohee added a RBI single to score Belle Bright for a 2-0 lead at the end of one.
Madi Freeman got on base with an error in the second inning, and Wherry plated her with a RBI double. Horton followed with another RBI double for a 4-0 advantage.
Once back in action, Coalfield’s Megan Meredith led off the fifth with a single and the Yellow Jackets and also had an RBI triple from Kera Keathley to rally from four down.
Despite that and pitcher Hannah Melhorn scattering seven hits, they weren’t able to hold off the Lady Bucs, who beat them in a sectional game for the second time in four years.
It was, however, an example of the never-give-up attitude displayed by Coalfield throughout the year. The Jackets rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat Grace Christian in the regional semifinals.
“We have a special group of kids,” Coalfield coach Jennifer Laurendine said. “When their backs are against the wall, they always come out person-by-person and come back. We came back that way against Grace Christian and we’ve battled that way all season. Tonight, we just fell one short.”
As for University High, Jeffers said there is business to attend to next week at the state tournament in Murfreesboro.
“We’re going to do something this year that UH hasn’t done,” Jeffers said. “We’re going to go down there and win some ball games if it’s at all possible. I know it’s going to be tough competition, but the way we’re hitting the ball, we have a shot to make some noise down there.”