Lady Warriors stay on track

By Jeff Birchfield

   ERWIN -- Happy Valley jumped out to an early 7-0 lead and held on with two spectacular defensive catches to bump Volunteer 7-5 from the winner's bracket Monday night of the District 1-AA softball tournament held at Unicoi County High School.
   The Lady Warriors (17-14) took advantage of an uncharacteristic five errors by the second-seeded Lady Falcon squad.
   "I can't get it through my girls' heads enough whether it's a fly ball, ground ball, you're running everything out," said HV coach Karri Killen. "You've got to take advantage of those mistakes, because they come back and hit the ball. When they make mistakes, you've got to jump on them.
   "Our girls did that. There was excellent base running. They did what I asked them to do and I don't think we had an error out there. We got seven runs and did whatever we had to manufacture those runs, and it's a good thing we did."
   On the other side, Volunteer coach Jackie Stickler was upset by his team's mistakes.
   "We made errors early," he said. "We didn't make the plays and they jumped on us quick. We showed a lot of character by battling back, but you can't take anything from Happy Valley. They did what they had to do to win. We didn't lay down and quit, but they made the plays defensively."
   The first inning gave warning this would be an unusual game. After two quick outs in the top of the first, the home plate umpire called HV batter Leanna Howell out on a third strike to end the inning.
   Killen challenged the call, with the first-base umpire overturning the ruling. A wild pitch sent Howell to first, then next batter Terra Whaley got on base with a walk. A single from Alicia Dick advanced the runners before a two-run RBI single by Kortney Goulds allowed both to score and put up HV 2-0.
   "One call can make a difference," remarked Killen. "It's hard to see when she (Howell) fouled the ball. He can't see it behind the plate if it hits the ground or not. If it's a foul ball, it's a dead ball and that's why they give you three strikes instead of two. One swing can make a big difference."
   Added Strickler: "We can't fault anyone, but ourselves. That early in the game, it shouldn't have made a difference. We have to take that loss on ourselves."
   Happy Valley added a third run in the top of the second as Jeanie Hawkins scored off an error by the Volunteer outfield. The Lady Warriors scored another in the fourth as Brandi Dugger crossed the plate off a sacrifice hit by Hawkins.
   Volunteer (21-12) showed some life in the bottom frame, filling the bases with no outs. Winning pitcher Dick stayed tough, closing down the inning with an out at home plate and a double play one batter later.
   The game seemed completely out of reach for Volunteer in the fifth after a costly error allowed Howell, Whaley and Dick each to score. In the bottom of the sixth, the Lady Falcons finally began to rally as Amanda Odom started off the inning with a single.
   Two walks loaded the bases before a wild pitch by Dick let pinch runner Amber Oaks score. A double by Kasey Gilliam scored Ashleah Dykes and Jessica Godsey before Goulds came in relief for the Lady Warriors.
   Goulds got off to a slow start, giving up another Volunteer run before shutting down the rally with the score at 7-4.
   The final inning provided a last scare for Happy Valley. The Lady Warriors went three up, three down in the top of the seventh, before the Lady Falcons started the final frame on a Brittany Mabe double.
   A single by Dykes plated Mabe to cut the lead to two with the tying run at the plate. The Lady Warriors thwarted the comeback with spectacular catches by Dugger in right field and Hawkins in center for the final two outs.
   "Those plays were excellent," said Killen. "I can't complain about our defense. We didn't have an error and we have quick girls. They've come a long way since the beginning of the year. They've worked hard and improved tremendously. We'd played solid and backed up our pitchers."
   The athletic plays of the HV outfield impressed Strickler.
   "In that last inning, they caught two good balls out there," said Strickler. "They were hard hit balls. They deserved to win. We didn't play well enough and they did."
   Offensively, Howell, Dick and Goulds each had two hits to pace Happy Valley, while Gilliam was the most productive Lady Falcon with three RBIs.
   On the mound, Dick picked up the win, giving up six hits and three runs a little over five innings of work. Odom went the distance in suffering the loss for the Lady Falcons.
   Volunteer now falls to the loser's bracket, where they face Sullivan Central today at 5 p.m.
   Happy Valley will play Unicoi County in the winner's bracket at 7, with the winner of the that game to advance to the District 1-AA championship.
   Unicoi County 10
   Sullivan Central 0
   The top-seeded Lady Devils improved to an amazing 41-2 on the year, shutting out the fourth-seeded Lady Cougars on Katie Baxter's one-hitter.
   Baxter also had a solid day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two doubles, two runs scored and three RBIs. Deanna Rice added a three-run homer for her 13th home run of the year in a game abbreviated after four and a half innings of play.