While pitching and hitting are very important, the often overlooked third key to success on the softball diamond is defense.
Walker Valley used plenty of each Monday night to knock off top-seeded East Hamilton, but it was the “vacuum” defense of third baseman Lara “Eureka” Bean, shortstop Rachel “Hoover” Percy and second baseman Hallie “Dirt Devil” Davis that stole the show.
“Our defense, especially the left side of our infield, plus Hallie (Davis), has been great this year and was again tonight,” praised Lady Mustang coach Lauren Limburg. “They watch the ball into their gloves and make good throws. They also get to some balls that other players are not able to get to.”
The “Feisty Fillies” trio accounted for 17 of the 21 outs recorded by Walker Valley in the 3-1 victory to advance to tonight’s loser’s bracket final for a shot at a Region 3-AAA berth and a spot in the championship game.
“Our defense has always excelled. We work good under pressure,” proclaimed Percy, who has signed to play for Tennessee Wesleyan. “When we get into a bad situation, we take care of it.”
Junior ace Alicia Raymond (23-10), who also fields her position very well, is a ground-ball type pitcher, giving the trio plenty of opportunity to shine. In a victory over Bradley Central Friday evening, Raymond and the trio allowed just one ball to get out of the infield.
Walker Valley (31-13) will take on Ooltewah (28-10) at 5 this evening, while the district title game, where Soddy-Daisy (31-7) awaits, is set for 7. Should the Lady Mustangs or Lady Owls defeat the Lady Trojans, a second championship game will be played Wednesday at 6. Soddy defeated Ooltewah 8-4 in Monday’s winner’s bracket final to earn a region berth.
Having split their two regular season meetings, Walker Valley knew facing East Hamilton (24-10) was going to be a tough challenge. The Lady Hurricanes had been to the last two TSSAA Class AA state tournaments before stepping up and winning the District 5-AAA regular season title this year.
Both teams scored solo runs in the opening inning Monday.
Walker Valley senior Baylee Boen opened the game with an opposite field single, but while rounding the bag, she tweaked an ankle she had injured during volleyball season.
“Baylee’s a fighter. She rolled her ankle, but she wanted to stay out there,” Coach Limburg remarked. “She a great leadoff hitter and center fielder for us. She’ll work through the injury and tough it out.”
Boen was bunted to second by Percy and scored a few moments later when Raymond helped her own cause with a two-out double.
East Hamilton matched the score when leadoff batter Miracle Gorman singled and advanced to second when the ball was bungled in the outfield. She too was bunted up a base and came home on a Kelsey Payne single. That would turn out to be the only time the “girls in green” were able to touch the plate, as Raymond and the defense held them scoreless the rest of the way.
The “Feisty Fillies” got fired up in the bottom of the second after Alyssa Strickler drew a walk, but catcher AJ Chancey fired a perfect pickoff throw to Davis, who snuck in behind the Lady Hurricane base runner to nab her trying to dive back into first base.
Bean pulled off the defensive gem of the day in the third frame on a Lady Hurricane bunt attempt. The ball got just enough air under it for Bean to make a diving catch and scramble to her feet to prevent a base runner from advancing. A couple of innings later Bean speared a hot shot hit over her head to prevent an extra base hit.
Walker Valley was able to take advantage of a pair of Lady Hurricane miscues to score the winning runs in the sixth frame. Chancey led off the frame by reaching on a fielding error.
Courtesy runner Madison Russo was bunted to second by Raymond and then came in to score on a double by sophomore Emilee Spann.
Spann was able to come around herself after advancing to third on a groundout and then score when the throw to get her went awry.
East Hamilton made one last effort to rally in the bottom the seventh when Amber Phillips and Maggie Woods reached on back-to-back singles, but Percy closed the door with a throw to Bean to get a force-out, hanging on to a pop-up behind the circle despite colliding with Davis at the time of the catch and quickly running down a short pop-up behind third base at the foul line.
On the offensive side of things, Raymond was the only Lady Mustang with multiple hits, going 2-for-2, with a double and an RBI.
“She also laid down that sacrifice in the sixth and that runner came around to score,” commented Coach Limburg. “Alicia has not only been great for us in her pitching this season, she has done it with her bat and glove as well. She’s a leader. She has battled through several injuries and still gets out here and gets the job done.”
“I’m proud of all of our girls. We played a complete game and stayed focused. That’s what you have to do to beat a great team like East Hamilton,” the coach continued. “We never gave up.”
Four of Walker Valley’s seven hits in the victory were doubles, with Percy bouncing one off the top of the fence in the seventh, while Mackenzie Elrod opened the fourth frame with a two-bagger to join Raymond and Spann’s RBI-hits.
Raymond and Davis were named to the All-District 5-AAA Team.
Bradley’s Emmaly Morgan and Lauren Lee, from Cleveland High, were also selected.
Walker Valley 100 002 0 — 3 7 2
East Hamilton 100 000 0 — 1 7 2
WP: Alicia Raymond (23-10) 7 IP, 1 K, 2 BB, 7 hits, 1 ER; LP: Rachel Gamble 7 IP, 1 K, 3 BB, 7 hits, 1 ER. 2B: Rachel Percy, Emilee Spann, Alicia Raymond, Mackenzie Elrod (WV). RBIs: Raymond, Spann (WV); Kelsey Payne (EH). Highlights: Raymond 2-2, 2B, RBI; Spann 1-3, 2B, RBI, run; Elrod 1-2, 2B, BB; Percy 1-3, 2B (WV); Kelsey Payne 1-2, BB, RBI; Miracle Gorman 1-3, run; Alyssa Strickler 1-2, BB (EH). Records: Walker Valley 30-13; East Hamilton 24-10.
2014 All-District 5-AAA Team
Walker Valley – Hallie Davis, Alicia Raymond; Bradley Central – Emmaly Morgan; Cleveland – Lauren Lee; East Hamilton – Kelsey Payne, Rachel Gamble, Savannah Daniel, Brie Levy; Soddy-Daisy – Haley Reynolds, Shonna Penny, Grayson Brown; Ooltewah – Allie Jones; McMinn County – Lexie Axley.