Lea’s aggressive baserunning lifts Lady Warriors to East Softball Regional title

The 2024 Class 4A East Softball Regional champion Cherokee County Lady Warriors. Photo by Billy Garrett.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

ALBERTVILLE – Cherokee County High School sophomore left fielder Macy Lea wasn’t feeling up to par on Monday during the East Softball Regional at Sand Mountain Park in Albertville.

Following the Lady Warriors’ one-run win over Madison County, she went to the doctor and had a steroid shot to relieve her symptoms of strep throat.

She felt a little better on Tuesday in the Lady Warriors’ Class 4A regional championship game against White Plains, but still wasn’t quite 100 percent.

But she was close enough to make a major impact.

Lea drew a walk with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning in a tie game. She stole second base, then advanced to third on an error at short that allowed leadoff batter Audrey Haygood to reach first safely.

With runners at first and third, Raechel Russell was up at the plate. She sent a soft pop fly to White Plains pitcher Leighton Arnold, who made a diving attempt to catch the ball, but it bobbled out of her glove.

That was all Lea needed to see. She aggressively darted home from third to score the winning run, lifting the Lady Warriors to a 2-1 victory.

The win sends the Lady Warriors to next week’s state tournament in Oxford, where they will face Central Regional runner-up Prattville Christian on Monday at 10:45 a.m.

“Every time we play them (White Plains) it’s a knockdown drag out,” Lea said. “It was just a matter of who wanted it more. We wanted it more for sure.

“That ball (Russell hit) was in the air, and I just froze. She missed it and I was running. The catcher got the ball and the third baseman was running with me. She shoved me, but I dragged my hand across home. It was interference, but I was safe either way. I was pumped up for sure.”

And so were Lea’s teammates and coaches, including head coach Brad Weaver.

“It was a good call by the blue (home plate umpire),” Weaver said. “A lot of times, they would just call her out. It was a bang-bang situation, but he made the correct call. Macy made the correct read of going when she saw the ball go off the pitcher’s glove.

“That (final play) was just girls trying to make a play. Both teams played their tails off.”

As Lea said, the game was a battle, particularly between White Plains’ Arnold and Cherokee County’s Emma Hill. It was a scoreless game until the Lady Warriors finally broke through on senior catcher Lanie Williams’ solo home run to deep center field to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning.

“(Arnold) missed (on the pitch) and I knew I had to take advantage of that,” Williams said. “When it came off the bat I didn’t know if it was going over, but it did.”

When asked if that was the biggest home run of her career, Williams said “for sure.”

Following Williams’ homer, the Lady Wildcats appeared as if they might tie or take the lead in the top half of the fifth inning. They loaded the bases with two outs, but Hill retired Cassidy Arnold on a pop out to Lea.

It remained a 1-0 game until the top of the seventh. A pair of Lady Warrior fielding errors helped White Plains push across the tying run with one out. Hill dug in deep to strike out Arnold and Carli Fritts to retire the side and set up Lea’s dramatics.

“We knew their hitters and knew how to work them,” said Hill, who recorded her 600th strikeout during the game and ended with 15 Ks in the game. “I just had to trust my infield and outfield to make the plays. I had trust in them the whole way through.

“I just knew I had to hold it right there (at 1-1). I knew our lineup had it.”

The Lady Warrior lineup did have Hill’s back, and now they’re all making a return trip to Oxford – this time as a regional champion.

“I think we’re better for sure,” Lea said. “Last year we were a good team and we didn’t lose much. We’re back and we’re as strong as we were. I think this time going into it we’re a little more prepared and we’re in the right mindset.”

“It feels great,” Williams added. “It’s the seniors’ last year and we want to go out with a bang.”

Haygood and Russell led the Lady Warriors at the plate with a pair of hits apiece. Hill, Abby Lea and Grayson Tucker added a hit apiece.

Fritts led White Plains with a pair of hits, including a double. Cassidy Arnold and Addison Bradley also doubled for the Lady Wildcats.

Cherokee County High School pitcher Emma Hill shows off her 600th strikeout ball. following the Lady Warriors’ 2-1 victory over White Plains in the Class 4A East Softball Regional championship game. Photo by Billy Garrett.
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