Sarah Bailey found plenty of positives after the Region 2-AA tournament championship game loss against perennial power Gibbs.
The Alcoa softball coach pointed out that her team, playing with a makeshift lineup, had held Gibbs (40-9) scoreless for four of five innings.
In the circle, Lady Tornado freshman pitcher Cassa Arnold got valuable post-season experience and sophomore Kaylee Grace Lovingood showed grit in fighting back after a rough inning.
And, despite being far down, the Lady Tornadoes never gave up and rallied late to prevent a shutout.
Those positives didn’t remove the sting of one big negative — that Gibbs had exploded for 12 runs in the top of the third inning.
The Lady Eagles limited Alcoa to four hits in a 12-1 run-rule victory in five innings Tuesday evening.
Alcoa (23-10-1) will play a road game in the sectional round later this week. The Lady Tornadoes will face the winner of Wednesday’s game between Grainger and Sullivan East.
“Gibbs is a phenomenal team. They always are,” Bailey said. “We had one play that kind of got their momentum started and we got set back from that.”
The one play came in the top of the third inning before either team had scored. Gibbs (40-9) started at the top of its order with two hits to drive in the game’s first run.
Cleanup batter Bailey Reagan then smashed a liner down the right-field line. Most Alcoa players saw the ball land in foul territory, but the only opinion that mattered was the umpire, and they ruled the ball fair.
Reagan ended up on third base with two RBIs, and the big hit started a Gibbs run that ended after 16 batters had amassed nine hits, three walks and one hit batter to plate 12 runs.
“(Reagan’s hit) really changed the feel of the game,” Bailey said. “From that point on, they really started seeing the ball well, and the ball started falling for them. Once we finally got out of that inning, well, they only scored in that one inning but unfortunately it was 12 runs.”
Lovingood escaped a first-inning jam after giving up a double and walk and then worked easily through the second before running into the murderer’s row in the third.
The biggest hit of the barrage, a three-run home run, chased the sophomore. Lovingood was relieved by freshman Arnold who couldn’t temper the blaze, giving up two more hits and walking two.
Lovingood returned and gave up three more runs, including two off the second of three hits in the game from pitcher Rayna Pendleton, before Gibbs finished its feast.
In addition to leading the Gibbs offense with three singles and two RBIs, Pendleton scattered four hits, with two coming from Alcoa leadoff batter SieAnna Cameron.
Alcoa ruined Pendleton’s shutout with one run in the fifth frame. Kassidy Moore led off with a single, advanced on two consecutive infield errors and scored on Italia Kyle’s liner that went over the shortstop’s reach.
Befitting the flow of the game, a trailing runner was thrown out at third base on the play, and Alcoa’s final chance went down on a called third strike.
Alcoa had a major shift in its lineup, with five players moving positions due to the absence of shortstop and cleanup hitter Audrey Roach. Bailey had learned earlier Tuesday afternoon that her senior leader was ill and could not play.
“(Roach) is a big hole in the lineup for us,” Bailey said. “Our goal is to get her ready for Friday, but our girls didn’t miss a beat defensively. Italia Kyle did a great job moving from third to short.”
After re-entering the game to pitch in the third, Lovingood gave up two hits. Kyle prevented further damage with a long run from shortstop into foul territory to record the third out of the fourth inning.
Bailey spoke highly of Lovingood’s attitude to return to the circle and of her team continuing to battle despite the big deficit.
“I am proud that we didn’t lay down and die,” Bailey said. “We came back out and fought to get that one run. A base hit here or there and we’re back in the ballgame, but 12 runs is kind of tough to overcome.”