MURFREESBORO — Barrett Wherry couldn’t have picked a better time for a breakout performance.
Not known for her power, Wherry hit a grand slam in the fifth inning and added a two-run home run in the seventh to lift University High to an 11-5 victory over South Fulton on Wednesday at the TSSAA Class A state softball championships. In both cases, the center fielder sent the ball flying well beyond the fence at the Murfreesboro Starplex Field.
Wherry, who hadn’t hit a home run prior to Wednesday, ended with gaudy numbers, 2-for-4 with six RBIs and three runs scored.
“When that first one went out, I didn’t actually believe it,” Wherry said. “It had never happened in my life. The next time up, she threw me the same pitch, so I was like, ‘Guess I will hit that again.’ ”
Wherry’s breakout day symbolized a breakthrough for the entire University High program. Winless in seven previous games at the state tournament, including a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Oliver Springs on Tuesday, the Lady Bucs (28-14) battled from a 4-2 deficit to score seven runs in a decisive fifth inning.
“This was the same dugout, the same field where we got knocked out last year,” UH head coach Keith Jeffers said. “You always remember those losses because they sit with you. We came out, had a bad inning and we weren’t playing that well. They got up 4-2, but after that, we just started hitting the ball.”
Belle Bright and Mollee Cohee had RBIs to push University High to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
However, South Fulton answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Although the Lady Red Devils (24-15) added another run in the third, they couldn’t hold off the University High onslaught.
The Lady Bucs had already pulled ahead 5-4 in the fifth with a RBI single by Taylor Treadway and a two-run double by Haley Faulkner before Wherry’s grand slam.
Tanner Horton picked up the win, giving up five runs and 11 hits over seven innings. She was among several UH stars at the plate, finishing 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Faulkner was also 2-for-4 as eight of the nine in the Lady Bucs’ starting lineup reached base at some point.
There were also enough big plays on the defensive end to keep the game in hand, and to give UH its first ever state-tournament win.
“It’s amazing to win this game,” Bright said. “We’ve been down here three of the past four years and we hadn’t won a game. But, we’re confident this year and feel we have a shot against anyone.”
It was a sentiment shared by her head coach.
With good hitting up and down the lineup, Jeffers felt confident about UH’s chances at the state tournament. His players certainly didn’t disappoint him on Wednesday.
“It’s getting to the point where I feel comfortable with everybody in the lineup hitting,” Jeffers said. “Everybody is contributing and everybody is hitting the ball hard. Tanner pitched an awesome game. Even though her speed was off a little today, her location was good. We gave up those runs, but for the most part, we kept them in check.”
University High will play Whitwell in a losers’ bracket quarterfinal today at 1 p.m. The winner of that game will play again at 5 p.m.