By Curtis Carden
Following the belief that defense wins championships, the 11-12 year-old softball all-stars from the Unicoi County Little League returned to the county on Friday as state champions.
Last week, the team took full advantage of their trip to the Tennessee Little League Softball State Tournament by picking up the state title after defeating Morristown for a second time in the tournament, 11-4, on Wednesday, July 18, in Tazewell.
The all-stars secured a berth in the Southeastern Regional which begins on Thursday, July 26, at the sports complex in Warner-Robins, Ga.
Its a big accomplishment for our girls, manager Travis Griffith said. Our goal at the beginning of the all-star tournament was this. Some of our girls came straight from middle school ball and were afraid of getting a little burnt out on playing, but we got everything situated.
The girls had a great time and really enjoyed the experience.
The state championship marks the first since 2008 for the Unicoi County Little League program.
Getting the gold didnt come easy, Griffith said, after getting their first glimpse against Morristown on Monday, July 16. The team defeated Morristown 6-4.
They played us different defensively in our second game, Griffith added. Pitching was also different. In our first game, their pitcher had good control but she threw slow, which had our girls guessing until the last few innings.
In our second game, their pitcher was throwing some faster stuff, which we like and we were able to take advantage of it quick to pull ahead 11-1 early.
Offense was on full display during the game, with Cassi Foster, Rylee Stiltner and Neelee Griffith all chalking up three hits.
Kylee Wolfe came through with clutch hitting, Griffith said, bringing in some key RBIs while getting on base three times.
Hannah Bowen kept up her pitching superiority in the championship contest by pitching a complete game.
Hannah had a wonderful state tournament, Griffith said. She had Morristown guessing the entire game.
While the pitching paid dividends for the Lady Devils, the defense was key to winning the championship, Griffith said.
The defense played an amazing game, he added. They did a great job of backing up Hannah each time she needed them.
In the Southeastern Regional, the all-stars will face Virginia, West Virginia in pool play during the first three days of the tournament. Teams from Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina will play in the other pool.
Its another big step for these girls, Griffith said of the regional. The complex theyll be playing in is tremendous. Everything is also supplied by Little League International.
Some V.I.P. treatment will also be in store for the girls, who will get a feel for the Major League lifestyle.
The hotel theyll be staying in is well furnished, Griffith said. No parents will be allowed to stay at the hotel, so they get to prepare for every game like the big leagues.
In 9-10 year old all-star softball realm, the Lady Devils ended their run after bowing out in the second game of the state tournament by the score of 7-4 on Monday, July 16, in Lexington, Tn.
We just got down early and had trouble battling back, manager Chris Bogart said.
The experience will be key for the future, Bogart explained.
We have a great group of eight year olds coming up that could be selected to the 9-10 year old team, he added. For the rest of the girls, the experience will be big. Whether they continue playing or not, having that opportunity to play in a state tournament will be something that they can remember for the rest of their lives.
By Curtis Carden