Lady Warriors succumb to Lenoir City

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   LENOIR CITY--Last season, the Happy Valley softball team was pretty happy with just getting to the Class AA sectional.
   But with expectations much higher this year, losing at the same point in 2003 wasn't exactly what Lady Warrior head coach Karri Killen wanted.
   The Lady Warriors fell for the second year in a row in the final 16, this time losing 4-0 to the Lenoir City Panthers in Lenoir City.
   After having an outstanding regular season that included wins over state powers Knox Gibbs and Unicoi County, Killen thought this team was bound for Memphis.
   "There's no excuse this year," Killen said. "We had no excuse. From now on, we know we can play with anybody. We've just got to come out ready to do it. You can't do it for them, they've got to want to do it themselves.
   "They've got to show it. When they do and when they play their A-game, nobody's going to stand in their way. If they show up unsure and not ready to play, they're going to get beat. That's what happened."
   For six innings, the Lady Warriors played right with the Region 2 Champions. But the bottom of the third proved to be the dagger.
   Lenoir City scored four runs in the third, but only one of them was earned.
   Happy Valley, one of the best defensive teams around, surprisingly committed three errors on the day.
   "We made a few mistakes, and we let that set the tempo of the game," Killen said.
   It looked like Happy Valley was going to make a serious run in the top of the sixth after getting two runners on base, but Lenoir City pitcher Tommie Hicks retired the next two batters in the inning to get out of the jam.
   Hicks then struck out the side in the top of the seventh to clinch a state tournament berth for Lenoir City. On the day, Hicks struck out 11 batters and only allowed four hits.
   "We just didn't hit the ball as well as we have been or as well as we're capable of," Killen said. "But I give credit to their pitcher. She did a good job. We had a few hits, but we just didn't get the job done with the bats.
   "If you let down on good teams when you get to this point, they're going to make you pay for it. There's not a whole lot you can say about it, except that we just didn't hit the ball."
   It was a strong effort by Happy Valley pitcher Kortney Goulds, who managed to keep the Panthers scoreless after the Lenoir City outburst in the third.
   "We just had that one letdown inning, and it made a difference," Killen said. "That one inning makes the difference in the ball game."
   After making it to the substate two years in a row, the Lady Warriors will be one of the favorites to be in Memphis next year. Happy Valley loses just one senior.
   But that one senior, third baseman Leanna Howell, is somebody that Killen thinks will be hard to replace.
   "The one we do lose is a big catalyst on our team," Killen said about Howell. "Losing anybody is going to make a difference. But we've got some people that I think will step up. She's going to be hard to replace, and we'll miss her."
   Laura Bledsoe topped Lenoir City with three hits. Terra Whaley led HV with two hits.
   The Lady Warriors will now go back to the drawing board and try to finally reach their dream of making it to the state tournament in 2004.
   "We've got to start right now from day one building on next year," Killen said.