BLUFF CITY — In a normal ball game, the coach and teammates aren’t raving in post-game comments about the performance of a pitcher giving up 11 runs and 12 hits, including a grand slam and two other home runs.
In a normal game with 25 runs scored on 28 hits, including five home runs, the winning coach probably focuses on big hits rather than a power hitter bunting or a pinch hitter drawing a walk.
Alcoa’s 14-11 win over Sullivan East that earned the Lady Tornadoes one of eight berths in next week’s Class AA state tournament was no normal game.
Behind a gritty complete-game win from Kaylee Grace Lovingood and a combination of power and manufactured runs, Alcoa earned its first trip to the championship tournament since 1984.
Lovingood and all three pitchers for the Lady Patriots were knocked around by the potent offenses, but the Alcoa sophomore took her game to another level down the stretch. She yielded just one hit and no runs once her team had taken a 12-11 lead into the sixth frame.
Alcoa added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh but no one in attendance felt the lead was safe with the top of the order coming up for the Lady Patriots.
A defensive gem robbed Sullivan East of the chance to bring to the plate its top hitter, Chelsea Sams.
Alcoa coach Sara Bailey had intentionally walked Sams earlier in the game. Sams also banged her 22nd home run of the year — a grand slam just after Alcoa thought four runs in the fifth and a 12-6 lead was enough cushion.
Sams was in the on-deck circle with one out and a runner on first. Lovingood snared a hard comebacker to the circle, pivoted and fired to second base.
Shortstop Audrey Roach, who returned to play after missing the region final due to illness, tagged the bag and fired to first to complete a double play that left Sams without a final chance.
“I can’t say enough about Kaylee Grace Lovingood,” Bailey “It’s hard to pitch an entire ball game like this. Look at (Sullivan East). They used three pitchers and we hit all of them.
“(Lovingood) battled all night and gave us enough so that we could get a ground ball here and a ground ball there. It’s only fitting that she started that double play to make the final out.”
Alcoa opened the scoring with Roach clubbing a two-run homer in the first frame. This time and throughout, Sullivan East responded by scoring three on home runs from Kylee Wolfe and Cayden Bawgus.
Alcoa retook the lead with two in the second on SieAnna Cameron’s two-run double after Lovingood had singled and Bree Shoemaker had walked.
Cameron added two more runs with a single in the third that drove in Roach and Cierra Hudson.
The Lady Pats countered with two in the third and the teams each added one in the fourth with Kyle hitting a solo shot for Alcoa.
Kyle and Cierra Hudson drove in two runs each as Alcoa scored four in the fifth, but Sullivan East fought back to 12-11 with the grand slam from Sams the biggest of five hits.
Two insurance runs provided a breath for Alcoa in a two-out rally in the seventh. Roach and Hudson singled. Freshman Abigail Hembree pinch hit and walked after fouling off three pitches with a full count, and Kassidy Moore sliced a liner to right for the final two runs.
“It feels amazing,” Lovingood said after raucous celebration.
“I’m ecstatic,” Roach said. “I didn’t feel so good yesterday but no way I was going to miss this game. Four years of hard work has paid off.”
“Our kids fought the whole ball game. I told them that they were going to have to win every single inning,” Bailey said. “(Sullivan East) has a great offense and I knew if they got momentum with those big bats, we’d be in trouble. But for the most part our kids just kept fighting.”