Lady Warriors change their mindset, win three games to claim Class 4A, Area 12 softball title

Cherokee County High School’s Emma Hill tosses a pitch against Ashville on Monday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

CENTRE – The Cherokee County Lady Warriors have been in do-or-die situations before.

Just last softball season, they had to three consecutive games after a heartbreaking loss in the Class 4A, Area 12 softball tournament to earn the area championship.

On Monday, it was deja vu all over again.

After a change of mindset following their loss to Oneonta on Saturday, the Lady Warriors broke out of an offensive drought against Ashville with four first inning runs. That proved to be more than enough run support for pitchers Emma Hill and Abby Lea, who held the Lady Bulldogs to just two hits in a 5-0 victory to keep their season alive.

The Lady Warriors then proceeded to sweep two games from Oneonta, 8-0 and 4-1 in the if-necessary game to secure their latest tournament title.

“We told them after Saturday we had to take the hard way, but this team is capable of doing that,” Lady Warrior head coach Brad Weaver said. “We’ve had to win three (games) on the last day before, and kudos to them to come out and fight like they did.”

Cherokee County (31-9) advances to the East Regional at Sand Mountain Park in Albertville, where they will take on Area 9 runner-up Cordova on May 6 at 9 a.m.

“We never take the easy route. That’s just how we are, but we all know what it takes to get through it. We’ve done it before,” said Hill, who earned all three wins on Monday. In 14 combined innings, Hill allowed eight total hits with 16 strikeouts.

“I’m really proud of Emma and how she stepped up for us,” senior pitcher/center fielder Abby Lea said. “She’s really giving it all for her team. She’s the most selfless person ever. If we get our bats hot and keep scoring runs like we have, and Emma keeps dominating, we’re going to have a good run.”

Speaking of Lea, she came in for relief of Hill in the first two games Monday to save her arm for the championship game. Lea was just as effective, holding Ashville to no hits with six strikeouts in three innings. In Monday’s first game against Oneonta, Lea held the Lady Redskins to a hit with a pair of strikeouts.

Hill was showing a little tiredness late against Oneonta in the championship game in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Lady Redskins loaded the bases against her in with no outs, but she got out of the jam without giving up a run thanks to the Lady Warrior defense.

Senior second baseman Raechel Russell got fully extended to snag a sharply hit ball by Oneonta shortstop Desalee Fredrick and preserve the Lady Warrior lead.

“It was a weird-hit ball. It was spinning weird,” Russell said. “I couldn’t tell if I wanted to drop step or try and get behind it or jump up. Finally I just had to react on instinct and jump. I about had a heart attack. I thought if I don’t catch this ball I’m going to die. I had to stretch up fully in the air. I was so relieved I caught it. It was a really good feeling. I was high after that.”

Russell’s web gem also pumped up Hill as she got the next batter, Ashtyn Sligh, to pop out to senior catcher Lanie Williams, then retired Kaylee Peoples on a strikeout looking.

“We definitely needed that play,” Hill said. “Any time they got on base they always had a big play behind me. It just kept our momentum going.”

That momentum carried over to Lady Warrior senior reliever Grayson Tucker, who retired the side in order in the seventh for the final.

The Lady Warriors’ struggles at the plate are now a thing of the past. They combined for 32 hits on the day, including 26 in the two games against Oneonta.

Lea led the Lady Warrior hitters on Monday, going a combined 9-for-11 with two triples, two doubles, three runs and five RBIs. She was just a home run shy of the cycle in the first game against Oneonta, as she went 4-for-5 with a triple, a double, two singles, a run and three RBIs.

“(Sunday) night, we had my hitting coach Joey Foster come out and talk to the team,” Lea said. “He’s so smart and so good at what he does. He came out and talked to us and changed our mindset. We came out here today and proved it.

“We expected nothing less than three (wins) coming into today. We knew it was three games and we knew we were going to win three games. If you put your mind to it, then you’re going to do it. That’s all we did and here we are.”

Russell said there was no doubt in the Lady Warriors’ minds they would win all three games.

“We 100 percent had faith we were winning all three games,” she said. “That first game (against Ashville), you couldn’t tell we were playing for our season. No one was thinking that way. You could tell the change in our mindset.

“The last few games we were playing off. We’ve been playing scared to lose because it’s everyone’s senior year, but coming into today, we completely flipped that around. We were playing to win and win big.”

Cherokee County High School’s Abby Lea follows through on a hit against Ashville on Monday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print