The last time Blount County softball players took the field in May, the stakes were at their highest with everyone’s seasons on the line.
The atmosphere felt much different Tuesday night in the first annual Rocky Top Border War All-Star game hosted by Alcoa. Five Blount area players represented the West squad against the East, which strung together nine hits en route to a 4-1 victory.
Despite the loss, Alcoa coach Sarah Fekete Bailey — who coached the West team along with William Blount coach Amanda Leatherwood — said the game was a great way to honor seniors and their success.
“There’s so much talent in the softball world that needs to be celebrated, especially here in East Tennessee,” Fekete Bailey said. “It’s awesome to be able to highlight the kids because they put in so much time and effort, so it’s great to give them one more opportunity to play together with their friends from different high schools.”
The players representing Blount County were Alcoa’s Juliann Jones and Kaylee Lovingood, William Blount’s Josi Hutchins, Maryville’s Kendal Pitts and Heritage’s Brecca Williams.
Pitts and Williams helped West score its lone run when Pitts led off the top of the fifth with a double followed by an RBI double by Williams at the team’s next at-bat.
Trailing by three in the bottom of the seventh, Hutchins kept the rally alive with a bunt, but it wound up being the final hit of the night.
“It was so cool getting to play with your rivals,” Hutchins said. “Everybody got along great — it’s honestly like we’ve played together before. … I’m going to look back at this 20 years later and be like, ‘That was awesome.’”
“It just felt good to come out in a high school uniform one more time,” Pitts added.
The East never trailed after an RBI single by Boone’s McKenna Dietz put the team on the board, 1-0, in the top of the second. Jones tried to get things going for West in the bottom of that inning with a single with just one out, but the team wasn’t able to capitalize on that spark as it entered the top of the third still trailing by one.
Jefferson County’s Catelyn Riley stretched East’s advantage to 3-0 with a two-run homer in the top of the fourth. Hutchins didn’t allow East to immediately build on that momentum when she made a tough catch on a fly ball on the team’s next at-bat.
Carter’s Sydney Hurt accounted for East’s fourth RBI in the top of the fifth. Despite trailing for most of the game, the West team seemed to enjoy every minute.
“A lot of times, you have a lot of pressure on your back to get this done or that done,” Lovingood said. “Coming out in a game like this, it’s just a lot more fun.”
A pitcher and first baseman, Lovingood won All-District honors in 2019 and had the highest fielding percentage her freshman year. She finished last season with a 12-8 pitching record with 89 strikeouts, and she will continue her career at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.
Pitts was All-District in 2019 and 2021 as well as a TSCA All-State Player. Last season, she batted .451 with 41 hits, 51 RBIs and 12 home runs. She will play for ETSU next year.
Hutchins won All-District honors in 2021, during which she had a near perfect fielding percentage of .939. She also was awarded Best Offensive Player as she batted .406 for 56 hits, 32 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. Hutchins will continue her career at Bryan College.
An All-District selection in 2019 and 2021. Jones recorded 54 home runs and two grand slams. She finished last season with 50 hits, 24 RBIs and a 5-2 pitching record.
A catcher, Williams won All-District honors last season, during which she recorded 39 hits with 33 runs scored and 24 stolen bases. She finished with a career batting average of .354 and will play at Maryville College next year.
“It was special getting to play with all the girls I’ve never actually been able to play with,” Williams said. “It feels really good. It’s something I’ll remember forever.”