RUTLEDGE – The Claiborne Lady Bulldogs picked the right time to play their best softball of the season.
After knocking off second-seeded Greeneville in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel, Claiborne used their hot bats to stun top-ranked Grainger 9-1 in Wednesday’s district tournament semi-finals. Grainger will face the winner of the South-Greene vs. Greeneville game at 5 p.m. on Friday in an attempt to get to the championship game where they would face Claiborne again later that night at 7 p.m.
“We have preached to our team all year long that this is a work in progress,” Claiborne head coach Justin Cox said. “We start three freshmen and if you would have seen this team at the beginning of the year, you would have never projected them to be here.” The Lady Bulldogs, who are the number three-seed in the tournament, have been seasoned by a difficult schedule, something Cox said he learned by watching the traditional two best teams in the league. “We have played tough competition all year long as we could have scheduled cupcakes but we scheduled tough teams like Greeneville and Grainger do.
We played a tough schedule and finished with a .500 record and we got hot at the right time.”
“I think Claiborne might be the most talented team in our district,” Grainger head coach Rusty Bishop said of the Lady Bulldogs. “There is a reason I wanted to be opposite of them in the semi-finals because I knew how good they are and Greeneville found out how good they are (on Tuesday) too. Some days you are the windshield and somedays you are the bug and Claiborne was so good today and wore us out in every aspect of the game. There are days like that so we have to bounce back on Friday and win one game to get into the region and then see what happens after that.”
Claiborne scored first when Emma Myatt batted in Gretchen Jones for the initial run of the contest in the third inning. Grainger (24-12-1) answered in the fourth when Lexie Sykes singled and later scored on an RBI hit by Millie Hurst. Claiborne claimed the lead for good in the fifth when Myatt came home on a wild pitch and Maddie Lynch connected on a two-run single to center field to make it 4-1, Lady Dawgs.
Kenzie Cowell came around on a heads-up play when the Lady Grizzlies failed to get an out at second base in the sixth and then in the bottom of the inning, Claiborne flashed the defensive leather as they ended the inning on a double play. The Lady Bulldogs added some big insurance runs in the top of the seventh when Jones had a bases-loaded hit to score a run and then Hannah Fugate shut the door on the game as she hit a three-run homerun to right center field to push the lead to 9-1 which was the final tally.