University High is the most confident it has ever been heading into the TSSAA Class A state softball tournament, and for good reason.
The Lady Bucs (27-13), who open play with Oliver Springs (28-4) today, have a team batting average of .314, over 25 points better than last year’s squad. There is also plenty of depth with some of the girls playing multiple positions in the field.
“Any coach would enjoy this team,” coach Keith Jeffers said. “There are several girls who can play different positions, and some of them who don’t play as much still come in the field and contribute.”
There are only two seniors on the team — pitcher Haley Faulkner and utility player Beth Morgan. Others who have come up with big performances this season include third baseman Taylor Treadway, who has a team-best .414 batting average, and catcher Belle Bright, who leads the team in RBIs and runs scored.
In a 5-4 sectional win over Coalfield, Jeffers opted to go with Tanner Horton in the circle. The sophomore delivered with an 11-strikeout performance, and held on for the win after the game was tied. Also in that state qualifier, leadoff hitter Barrett Wherry went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and first baseman Mollee Cohee came through with a game-winning RBI double.
It was the latest big win for the Lady Bucs, who tied Unaka for the Watauga Valley Conference regular-season championship and then swept district and region titles.
Their overall record shows 13 losses, two more than the team had at this stage last season. But the schedule included Unicoi County and defending Alabama state champion Macon East. There were also one-run losses to Science Hill and Elizabethton, with the tying runner on third base in each contest.
Jeffers believes the tougher schedule was a key to the Lady Bucs getting this far.
“I don’t think you’re going to get better if you don’t play teams better than you,” Jeffers said. “Some of the teams we played this year, overall were better than we were. But at the same time, it helped us tremendously as the (regular) season ended. I’m a firm believer if you play your level or below, you’re going to have a great record, but you’re not going to get any better. You have to take that step up in competition. When you know you can compete with the big schools, you’re going to be fine in tournament time.”