(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
It looked like Daniel Boone's Rick Wagner would get to coach one more softball game at home. He had to settle for three fruitless extra innings, instead.
Volunteer scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning, ace Morgan Marshall retired the side in order in the bottom half and the Lady Falcons defeated Boone 8-4 for the Region 1-AAA title Wednesday night at Boone.
The Lady Falcons (36-9-1) will host Maryville on Friday and Boone (31-16) will visit Gibbs on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the sectional round.
Sophomore Sydney Chambers gave Volunteer a 5-4 lead with a one-out single that scored Emalee Crawford, who began the inning on second base via international rules. Freshman Oliva Housewright followed with a line-drive RBI single to left, and Katie McCann capped the four-run cushion with a two-run double to left-center field.
Volunteer, which beat Boone for the third time in five games this season, trailed 3-2 entering the seventh. But singles from Housewright and Kellie Kirk and a Boone error led to two runs.
The Lady Trailblazers had taken a 3-2 lead with three runs in the fifth, as Allie Littleton, Jaclyn Jenkins and McKenzi Ferguson each drove in runs. And Ferguson, the hard-luck loser whose complete-game loss was aided by some shaky defense, tied the score again in the bottom of the seventh with a one-out line-drive single to left field after Littleton had led off with a double.
"Sometimes you sit back and think, well, it's gonna happen," said Wagner, who announced on April 28 that he'll retire after this, his 12th, season. "I thought there for a while when we had the lead it was just meant to be. And then it wasn't."
The thought of one more game at Boone did flash through Wagner's mind amid the flurry of lead-changes and ties.
"I knew it was gonna be either Friday or today," Wagner said. "So I knew it was close. And that's alright. The girls have played great. And I've just been an emotional wreck for about two weeks."
Marshall, a sophomore right-hander, struck out 11 and walked four while improving to 25-2-1 with the complete-game victory.
"Mo pitched a heck of a game out here tonight," Volunteer coach Jackie Strickler said. "I mean, she just kept on and on and on. She made big pitch after pitch.
"You can't take nothing away from Boone. They've got a good ballclub. The two best teams in this area went at it toe to toe for 10 innings. I wish them all the luck in the world to get down there (to the state tournament)."
A couple of misplayed bunts and an infield single aided Volunteer's two-run fifth, which included RBI singles from Kellie Kirk and Kenzie Dixon. Kirk and Dixon scored the tying and go-ahead runs, respectively, in the seventh.
"This group of girls never quits," Strickler said. "They just kept battling and battling and we started hitting it. ... We talked early in the year, you know, good things are gonna happen if we work hard. These girls work hard. ...
"They believe in one another, and whatever it takes they just do it. And I couldn't be prouder."
Housewright was 3-for-4 and was hit by a pitch. Kirk finished 3-for-6 and Dixon was 2-for-5 with a walk.
Littleton finished 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI, a walk and two runs. Ferguson was 2-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. Jaclyn Painter was 2-for-2 with a walk, a sacrifice and a two-out triple in the bottom of the eighth.
Ferguson (21-7) struck out six and one of her three walks was intentional.
"I thought McKenzi pitched well," Wagner said. "They got some timely hitting. That game had about everything you could ask for -- leads, comebacks, leads, comebacks, ties. ...
"I thought our girls ... played hard. They played with a lot of heart. They're winners. I'll tell you right now -- and we've played every darn good team in Tennessee this year -- I wouldn't trade my bunch for anybody's, and I meant that wholeheartedly."