DANDRIDGE — Ashley Whitley was determined to take first base in her final plate appearance at Dumplin Valley. If it meant drawing a walk, knocking a base hit through the gap, going deep or even dragging her celebrating teammates there, Whitley was getting to first.
With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the 11th inning, Whitley’s discipline and patience at the plate took over.
Knowing how selective she needed to be if she wanted to swing, the senior third baseman quickly got ahead in the count and watched as ball four came across the dish.
Whitley’s RBI walk forced home Erica Lewanski from third and allowed Jefferson County to clinch its first TSSAA state tournament berth since 2010 with a 1-0 walk-off win over Farragut on Friday night.
That is, after Whitley carried the jubilant pack of Lady Patriots through the infield to touch first base.
“Probably the most nerve wracking game I’ve ever played to be honest with you. I’m just glad we won,” an emotionally exhausted Whitley said. “I’m just so excited, just without words right now, just playing more ball, not being done with this team, not being done and just playing together because it means everything.”
Whitley and the Lady Patriots (22-10) will play at least two more games together in next week’s double-elimination state tournament at the TSSAA Spring Fling in Murfreesboro, Jefferson County’s fourth state tournament appearance.
Catelyn Riley meanwhile has pitched against three of East Tennessee’s top tier teams and not batted an eyelash, even when Friday’s situations tested her mental toughness. The sophomore right-hander who tasted defeat in last season’s Class AAA Sectional picked up her third victory in four days, two of which came with the Lady Patriots’ season on the line.
Locked into a pitchers’ duel against her counterpart Lakyn Moore, Riley went the distance and struck out 10 batters over her 11 innings in the pitcher’s circle while allowing eight hits.
Perhaps more critical for Riley, she stranded 14 Lady Admirals on base in the contest and twice escaped a bases-loaded jam.
And even with Farragut (34-9) starting with a runner at second via international rule in the 10th and 11th innings, Riley stranded her both times. In fact, Riley fielded a short ground ball in the 10th and read the runner at third perfectly, keeping her there while throwing to first for the out.
“Lots of practice, mental toughness and having a wonderful defense behind me…they came through clutch when we needed them,” Riley said. “Our seniors came through. We were doing this with them, for them, it was a team effort all the way around.”
Riley, who hit 1-for-4 and came within feet of a walk-off solo home run to center in the ninth, took a pitch on the elbow to lead off the 11th for JCHS before Abbie Ferguson took ball four to load the bases for Whitley.
The trip to Murfreesboro will also allow Riley to reunite with family in middle Tennessee while also playing on the TSSAA’s biggest stage.
“She’s always been a tough kid. I’ve coached her since she was in sixth grade, and she’s always been one of those tough kids,” JCHS coach Hillary Love said. “To see her grow physically and mentally throughout this process, I can’t say enough about her.”
Moore went nine innings for the Lady Admirals, allowing four hits and striking out six before southpaw Avery Flatford relieved her in the 10th.
Flatford didn’t allow a hit and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the 10th, but she failed to record an out in the 11th and was tagged with the loss.
Jessica Odom, Makayla Alvey and Santanna Hall were the only other Lady Patriots aside from Riley to record a hit.
For Love, next week’s TSSAA Spring Fling will be her first time to lead JCHS to the state tournament as a head coach, having served as an assistant during the Lady Patriots’ 2010 appearance.
“I was sitting over there about the fourth or fifth inning thinking, ‘man, we should probably both be going (to state),’ because we’re both very good contenders for this. The one word that sticks out in my mind is team. It took every one of us,” Love said while remembering how last year’s sectional loss motivated JCHS in the offseason. “They’ve been driven ever since that last out that we had and it’s like we want to go back and we want to get after it one more time. They were able to do it. It was just a driving force mentally for us.”
Cameron Young batted 4-for-5 to lead Farragut, which had won 18 of its last 20 games and was seeking its first state tournament berth since 2008 and sixth overall. Avery Strickland went 3-for-5 and Jordan Kanipe hit 1-for-5.
Jefferson County is 6-6 all time in the Class AAA State Tournament, having gone 2-2 to place fourth in the state in all three appearances — 2001, 2003 and 2010.