DANDRIDGE—Morristown East has been a really good softball team in recent games, especially when it was close.
Wednesday night was no exception as the Lady Hurricanes came back from an early 2-0 deficit to slip past Jefferson County, 4-3, in nine innings to capture the District 2-AAA Softball Tournament championship.
The Lady Hurricanes pushed across the winning run on the sixth error of the night by the Lady Patriots and will now get to host the first round of the Region One Tournament on Monday.
Tournament most valuable player Kylie Rader allowed three hits in the first inning and then held the regular-season Inter Mountain Conference champs hitless the rest of the way in notching the mound verdict over conference player of the year Catelyn Riley.
East managed only six hits in the victory with Randi Drinnon’s two-run homer in the fifth the biggest blow. Sarah King had three safeties for the Lady ‘Canes while Brianna Maness had the other two.
Maness started the East ninth with an infield hit off the pitcher’s glove. She moved to second as Emma Pillion grounded out and over to third on another ground out by Jessica Harris.
Hailey Lamb then hit a little bleeder back to the mound that wasn’t gloved and Maness scored.
Rader went back to the mound and set the Lady Patriots down in order to preserve East’s 23th win against seven losses.
Jefferson County, which had beaten East twice in the regular season, will take an 18-7 mark on the road to the District 1 winner while the second place team there will play at East. There are four teams still alive in that district.
First-year East coach Heather Martin was happy for her team. “I couldn’t be any more proud of a group of girls. We lost those early games to Jefferson County and West but the girls worked hard and improved through the year. They deserved this tonight.
“We’ve played three really tough, close games this week and have been fortunate enough to win them all. It will be great playing at home on Monday.”
Martin admitted she was concerned when the Lady Patriots scored two in the first. “Any time you get down like that when you’re facing a pitcher who is an SEC-signee, you have to worry.
“But the girls battled just like they have all year and did a great job of coming back,” Martin continued. “Randi came through again with a huge home run and Kylie pitched another really great game.
“I’m really proud of what Kylie has accomplished this season. She’s just a sophomore but she pitched like a senior in this tournament. She gave up those runs in the first but didn’t get rattled or lose her poise. She just went back out there and did what she had to do.”
Martin said, “When you get good pitching and play sound defense you’re going to be in most games whether you’re killing the ball at the plate or not. We had some timely hits and we played another good defensive game.”
“It’s a great feeling to win the district in my first year but we still have work to do starting on Monday.”
Martin closed by saying, “Hillary (Love) is a great coach and she’s got a great team and pitcher. But our kids deserved this championship. They earned it.”
The last time (2019) East beat the Lady Patriots for the district title, Jefferson County bounced back and won a state championship.
Coach Love said, “You just hope that can happen again. But we still have a lot of things to work on as a team. In this game you’re always growing and learning as a team. You have to learn from your mistakes and know what you have to work on.
“Tonight, they capitalized on our mistakes and eventually that’s what decided the ball game,” Love said. “Hopefully it will get the girls fired up but we just have to cut out the mistakes and play sound softball.”
Love said her team didn’t hit the ball well. “We just couldn’t find a way to get any production on offense. Their pitcher threw the ball well and we struggled.
“The good thing is that the biggest win was last night, the one that put you in the region,” she said. “Obviously you never want to lose but if you have to lose one, this was the one to lose because you still get to play on Monday. We just have to put this behind us, clean up a few things and go back out there and play well.”
It was East’s third district title in four tournaments as they also won in 2017.
Rader wound up walking four with Riley drawing three of those. She struck out 10. Riley did not walk a batter and struck out six.
Sarah King had a leadoff single in the first and advanced to third but couldn’t score.
The Lady Patriots came to the plate and grabbed the lead. Riley walked and stole second. She scored as Sidney Easterday rolled a single back up the middle. Kinley Williams then singled in Easterday after she moved up on a wild pitch.
Drinnon threw the runner out trying to steal second and it was costly for the Lady Patriots because Stephany Steele doubled down the line in right. Rader got the third out on a bouncer back to the mound and was pretty much in control the rest of the way.
King got her second hit leading off the third inning. She stole second and went to third as Lindsey Winstead grounded to third. King then scored the first run for the Lady ‘Canes on an error.
East took the lead in the fifth when Lamb reached on an error to lead off the inning. King sacrificed her to second and one out later Drinnon clouted a long home run to left field to put East up 3-2.
That lead stood until the sixth when Erika Hall walked to lead off. Faith Whited came on to pinch run. She moved to second on Easterday’s sacrifice and scored all the way from second when the ball bounced away from the catcher and she couldn’t locate it in time to make a play.
Neither team scored in the seventh and East went down in order in the eighth. It looked bad for the Lady ‘Canes when Riley walked to lead off the bottom of the frame. However, Drinnon made a great diving catch off a foul bunt attempt and turned it into a double play with a perfect throw to second as the runner tagged and tried to move.
District 2-AAA Awards
Joining Rader on the all-tournament team were Drinnon, Sarah King and Blayne King of East; Riley, Easterday and Steele of Jefferson County; Kaylee Dyke and Aviah Bunsic of West; Courtney Clevenger and Candace Gregg of Cocke County; Abby Spradlin of Seymour; and Melia Underwood of South-Doyle.
The All Inter Mountain Conference team was also announced. On that team were Hall, Steele, Mandi Seals and Kelsie Whited of Jefferson County; Kennedy Payne, Blayne King and Sarah King of East; Alexis Brown, Maggie Seals and Jaelyn McDaniel of West; Sidney Clevenger and Courtney Clevenger of Cocke County; Spradlin and Hayden Gilliland of Seymour; Mikoal Stephens of South-Doyle and Karrington Dockery of Sevier County.
Superlative Awards for the regular season went to Riley, Player of the Year; Rader, Pitcher of the Year; Drinnon, Offensive Player of the Year; Bunsic, Newcomer of the Year; Easterday, Defensive Player of the Year; Williams, Freshman of the Year.
Love was named Coach of the Year.