MURFREESBORO — This wasn’t the first time Catelyn Riley has picked herself back up from being knocked down. Not the first time in her high school softball career. Not the first time this season. Not even the first time this postseason.
By Friday’s Class AAA state championship game, she was used to it.
Just hours earlier, Riley had surrendered nine runs — eight of which were earned — to the same Siegel team she had shut out in a 1-0 triumph the night before.
The Lady Stars rolled to a 10-1 victory to force the if-necessary game, and Jefferson County’s sophomore right-hander stepped into the pitcher’s circle one more time with the chance to completely redeem herself.
A leadoff walk by Presley Leebrick and a single by Vanessa Westfall put two runners on base with nobody out in the bottom of the first inning, but it was then that Riley suddenly returned to her dominant form which had carried the Lady Patriots to their fourth state tournament appearance in school history.
Between Jefferson County’s 3-1 win over Halls and 11-1 victory over Dyer County on Wednesday, Riley allowed just two earned runs on 10 hits with eight strikeouts in 14 innings of work before striking out seven Lady Stars in Jefferson County’s 1-0 win over Siegel in Thursday’s semifinal.
Even after Friday’s disappointing start, Riley could just sense something different about the second game: more gummy consumption.
“We like to call it the juice,” Riley said. “We didn’t eat a lot of gummies before that first game. We ate gummies all throughout that second game.”
The “juice” came courtesy of pitching coach Whitney Leon, who helped guide the Lady Patriots to a Class AAA fourth-place finish her junior season in 2010.
Leon might as well purchase a lifetime supply after Riley’s performance in Friday’s nightcap.
By the seventh inning, Friday’s opening game had done little more than delay the inevitable as Riley retired the side, ending the game with her third strikeout to set off the ensuing celebration as JCHS defeated Siegel 3-0 for its first ever state championship.
“It means everything because we’ve worked our butts off,” Riley said. “We work so hard. It’s day in and day out, the little things that matter, not cutting corners when you’re running in the gym or making sure you go low enough on squats in the weight room.”
Riley certainly didn’t cut any corners in the mental aspect of the game.
After suffering two losses to Morristown East as the Lady Patriots came up short of the District 2-AAA championship, Riley came right back the next week with three victories — two of which kept Jefferson County’s season alive.
The combined margin of the Lady Patriots’ three victories in that four-day stretch? Four runs, the widest margin coming when JCHS topped the Lady Hurricanes 5-3 to avenge the district championship loss and claim the Region 1-AAA title just 24 hours after winning at Daniel Boone 3-2 in the semifinal round.
Two days later, Riley went 11 innings in the Class AAA Sectional against Farragut. Despite the Lady Admirals getting 14 runners on base against her, Riley never allowed any of them to score and finished with 10 strikeouts in the 1-0 victory which locked up Jefferson County’s fourth trip to Murfreesboro.
“She’s done a great job. She’s just a sophomore and she’s already grown so much. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do,” Leon said. “(Mental toughness) separates the good players from the great players. The good players, they have (losses) in the back of their minds and great players, they wash it and they’re ready to come back with the next game. She’s done a great job separating herself.”
Consequently, Riley will now have championship jewelry of her own. And it runs in the family as her father helped the Tennessee Volunteers football team win two SEC titles and the 1998 national championship while her cousin helped Murfreesboro’s Oakland High School claim the 2018 Class 6A state championship.
Is there a chance Riley will proudly display her state championship ring in front of her family and friends at every opportunity she gets?
“Yeah, a little bit,” she said with a laugh.