Lady Jr. Cyclones enjoy remarkable run

By Marvin Birchfield

   It was nothing but total dominance on the year for the T.A. Dugger softball team, as it surged to an undefeated record of 18-0 during regular and postseason play.
   The Lady Jr. Cyclones were 15-0 on the season, and posted three wins in the conference tournament to be declared the best middle school team in upper East Tennessee.
   "When I first started coaching, Unicoi was essentially unbeatable," said Lady Cyclone coach Harry Farthing. "Vance had won the last two years with really great teams, but we had just been getting better each year."
   The Cyclones outscored their opponents by an overwhelming margin of 154-20, and committed only 16 errors on the season.
   "This is the first time T.A. Dugger has gone undefeated on the season, so we are really proud of ourselves, and it's definitely a great experience," said eighth-grade pitcher Brittany Smith.
   Four of the Cyclone starters averaged at least .500 at the plate, with Michaela Pietrowski batting .583, Tia Nave .535, Mary Edgar .511 and Smith .500.
   "I've improved a whole lot from last year," Nave said. "I was probably last on the list then, but I just worked on hitting the fast-pitch with "Jarfly" Dugger, and he helped me a lot."
   All of the 16 players on the Cyclone roster had a hit during the season, as Smith led in hits with 23, one of which was a home run, and Pietrowski drove in the most runs with 19.
   The two leading pitchers had an ERA rating of less than one per game for the year, with Edgar at 0.68 (and 71 strikeouts) and Smith at 0.56 (36 strikeouts).
   "I've been pitching since I was nine and have been working every year with Milligan coach Wes Holly about every week, plus lifting weights," said Edgar.
   Twelve of the teams T.A. Dugger faced were beaten by five runs or more, and the Lady Cyclones were finally able to dispose of last season's champ, Unicoi County, in the three games played.
   "We felt good when we beat Unicoi County," Smith said. "We beat them once last year, then they came back to beat us 10-3, so we were really happy when we beat them."
   Their toughest match-up on the year was the battle against Science Hill, where they came from behind to beat the Hilltoppers 6-4 toward the end of the regular season.
   The most memorable moment was their win against Unicoi, as they defeated the Lady Blue Devils 2-1 in the championship game of the conference tournament.
   "Unicoi County was our biggest game by far, and our defense is really great, so that was the difference this season," said Nave.
   Smith shined in the postseason. She had a home-run shot and five RBIs in the match-up with Sevier, and pitched a no-hitter against Robinson.
   A couple of the other eighth-grade players that contributed to the Cyclone success were catcher Kendall Blackston, second-baseman Mikael Oliver, and left-center fielder Holly Livingston.
   All three had more than ten RBIs on the season. Blackston knocked in 16 runs, Oliver was errorless in field, and Livingston scored ten runs.
   The Cyclones will be returning some talent next season, with Kyla Jones at short-stop, Jasmine Treadway in left field, Leah Henson in right field, and Summer Smith heading the mound.
   A lot of the success this year is credited to the surrounding coaches that are involved with the development of the players, according to Farthing.
   "The fall league helped us a lot," Farthing said. "Gerald Oliver coaches that, and "Jarfly" has been working with all of our pitchers, and (Milligan) Coach (Wes) Holly has been working with Mary."
   Farthing was assisted during the season by Oliver and Sue Branam.
   There were several areas where the Jr. Cyclones became better than what they originally though capable of, with every position making its contribution.
   "Our pitching this year was as good as anybody's with Brittany coming in taking the pressure off of Mary," said Farthing. "Kendall developing into the catcher that she did, for we knew she was good, but not that good."
   Whether it was in the in-field or outfield, TA Dugger continued to make the plays, which brought them an undefeated season and the conference championship.
   "The in-field made just two errors all year, for they are just some tough nose kids," said Farthing. "The outfield was tremendous because they were throwing people out at first, forcing runners at second, and catching line drives to turn them into double-plays."
   Farthing says, there was not a whole lot of teaching needed for this group of girls, instead the focus was on the points of fine tuning their skills.
   "They had the fundamentals down so good that we just had to work on the little things like base-running, some gimmicks, stealing, and defenses plays that were so sophisticated that we haven't ever really worried about teaching before," said Farthing.
   As far as there outlook for next season, the Cyclones will have to rebuild in order to make the conference repeat, but the talent is there if they can continue to have players step up.
   "We're going to be good for we have eight players returning, four of which started, and if Summer Smith can develop into our number one pitcher I think we'll be competitive, but I don't know yet if we'll be able to repeat," said Farthing.