KNOXVILLE — Maryville coach Nick Payne knew the hits would be scarce in Tuesday night’s Region 2-AAA semifinal game against Knoxville Halls.
The Lady Rebels played well enough defensively to advance to sub-state, but they couldn’t generate enough at the plate en route to a 1-0 season-ending loss at Halls.
“We had runners in scoring position several innings, we just couldn’t get anything hard,” Payne said. “That’s the great thing about the game — it’s so unpredictable. We were trying so hard not to let certain players beat us.”
Halls’ lone run came off a solo homer by Leyna Gould in the bottom of the fourth. The Red Devils (28-6) finished with five hits while Maryville had two. Halls will play Farragut on Wednesday in the region championship.
Brianna Blair earned the win, striking out five while pitching a complete game. A freshman, Brooke Bentz allowed four hits while striking out one over four innings for Maryville (22-11).
“They are just as good at hitting as they are pitching, and Brooke did a great job,” Payne said. “I think we just missed a pitch up, and the girl got a good bat on it.”
Maryville had a couple opportunities to even the score — none better than when Kasey Monday doubled on a line drive to left field in the top of the sixth. The Lady Rebels just couldn’t bring her home.
Maryville has come a long way from early in the season, when the team was capable of making double-digit errors on a given day.
“We struggled early — defensively,” Payne said. “We looked bad. “It’s the worst defense I’ve ever been associated with, and I was quick to tell them that. They bought in. They knew what it was going to take and the hard work.”
The Lady Rebels turned their season around, even notching a win over the eventual District 4-AAA champion Farragut during the regular season. Their 9-8 victory over Heritage last week in the district tournament sealed a spot in the region tourney.
The four seniors — Monday, Caroline Moore, Katie Thompson and Macie Powell — joined the squad the same year Payne did as an assistant coach. Payne took over the program this season and said those upperclassmen are special to him.
“They built such a great foundation this year,” Payne said. “Everything we do from here on out is going to be credited to their leadership and their work ethic and drive to want more.”