During the preseason of her first year at Alcoa, Sarah Bailey drew up a contract for her softball team, listing values of attitude and work ethic that she expected.
The Lady Tornadoes added goals at the bottom of the document, and each player marked their buy-in with a thumbprint.
The team has now accomplished every objective listed, including beating district foe Kingston twice, win a regional title and win in the sectional round.
Alcoa and Kingston split in the regular season, but Alcoa won the rubber match in the District 4-AA championship game.
Alcoa fell to Gibbs in the Region 2-AA final, but its advancement to that game gave it a second chance in sectionals. The Lady Tornadoes defeated Region 1 champs Sullivan East in a 14-11 slugfest Friday to reach that goal.
Today, the they mark off the final item of that list as they start play as one of the last eight teams standing in the Class AA state championship tournament.
Alcoa (24-10-1) faces Creek Wood (34-5-1) at 5:30 p.m. CT in the first game of the double-elimination tournament.
“The big (goal) that we wrote in all-capital letters at the bottom was ‘STATE TOURNEY,” senior catcher Bree Shoemaker said. “Everybody was 100 percent committed that we weren’t going to let off the brakes until we get to that point. To actually be going, it’s just phenomenal. It’s unbelievable.”
Just prior to boarding the bus to Murfreesboro Monday afternoon, Bailey told The Daily Times that having plans for reaching big goals is key to her coaching philosophy.
“I think goals are more attainable that way,” Bailey said. “When you have a plan, you feel more prepared and don’t feel as nervous that way.”
Sophomore pitcher Kaylee Grace Lovingood highlighted the value of Bailey’s penchant for planning and preparation when the Lady Tornadoes finished off Sullivan East.
With one out, one on and the most feared East batter in the on-deck circle, Lovingood fielded a comebacker and pivoted to second base without hesitation to start a game-clinching double play.
“We’ve practiced that so much that double play was just routine,” Lovingood said. “Every day at practice, we work on going home, going to first, going for the double play.”
“That’s why you practice,” Bailey said. “There’s a saying, ‘You don’t rise to the occasion. You sink to the level of your training.’ And that’s why we busted our butts in preseason workouts and in practice. These kids earned it, and the practice paid off.”
Bailey inherited four seniors — all high quality and all starters. Jayla Carter is at first base, Kaylee Stuckey in left field, Audrey Roach at shortstop and Shoemaker behind the plate. They welcomed a group of talented underclass players and developed strong chemistry.
“Coach Bailey just pushed us so hard from preseason, it really helped us,” Roach said. “She definitely knows the game, knows how to coach each player and knows each of our strengths and weaknesses.”
A growing strength for Alcoa is in depth and versatility. Any batter in the order is capable of making a big hit or a sacrifice, and defense is solid across the diamond.
In the game against Sullivan East, power hitter Juliann Jones showed that in laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Freshman pinch hitter Abigail Hembree worked a full count before drawing a walk to extend a two-run seventh inning rally.
“There’s no spot where I feel like ‘oh my gosh, I don’t have confidence in our kid,’” Bailey said. “It’s definitely a team. I told them that we couldn’t succeed without every single person on the squad. If everybody does their job, we can win.”
The Lady Tornadoes have met their final listed goal but don’t intend to rest on those laurels.
“Definitely, we’re not going up there to settle for just being up there,” Roach said. “We are going there to survive and advance. That’s what you do in the postseason. If we play like we know how to play and follow the game plans, then we’ll be set.”