By Lori Cathey
It wasn’t the end they dreamed of, but the Gibson County High School Lady Pioneers still accomplished feats no other team in program history can match.
GCHS fell 7-6 to Sale Creek and 5-3 to Unaka in the TSSAA Class A Tournament to end a remarkable postseason run that included district and region championships and its second consecutive trip to the state tournament.
“This season has been one of the most challenging but rewarding I think I have ever coached,” said head coach Chris Lownsdale. “Throughout the entire season, we had to deal with injuries that constantly had us changing our lineup. It wasn’t until the last two weeks that we finally had people in positions that we used in the postseason. We made a great run in the end and returning to the state tournament is a memory they will always have. I appreciate all of the support we received and would like to express to the graduating seniors how much they will be missed.”
Seniors Chloe Hopgood, Emery Presley, Jaci White, Savannah Fletcher, Brittney Kolwyck and Lexie Garner played their last game as in the Lady Pioneers’ uniforms Wednesday. White will extend her softball playing career at Kentucky Christian University.
Sale Creek 7, Gibson Co. 6
The Lady Pioneers opened the state tournament facing Sale Creek the afternoon of May 21 at McKnight Park in Murfreesboro.
Sale Creek took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the inning.
Jaci White led the top of the second inning off with a single to left field. Emery Presley singled to right field, and Molly Lamar hit a grounder to the right side of the pitcher for an out, moving both runners to the next base. Brittney Kolwyck followed with a two-run single to center field, driving in White and Presley. Macey Neal hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring Kolwyck to give Gibson Co. a 3-1 lead.
The Lady Pioneers added two runs in the top of the fourth inning off a home run over the center field fence from Zoey Neal that also scored Macey Neal who led the inning off with a single. Gibson Co. led 5-1.
Sale Creek scored a run in the bottom of the fourth and the sixth innings to make trim the Lady Pioneers’ lead to 5-3.
In the seventh inning, Macey Neal and Zoey Neal both singled to start the inning. Chloe Hopgood laid down a great sacrifice bunt, advancing both Neals to the next base with one out. Savannah Fletcher was intentionally walked to load the bases and scored on an error by the Sale Creek catcher to give Gibson Co. a 6-3 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Allison Smith crushed the Lady Pioneers’ fans with a walk–off grand slam that gave Sale Creek the 7-6 win and moved the Lady Pioneers to the losers’ bracket.
Lexie Garner took the loss. She pitched a complete game and gave up two walks, struck out one batter and allowed 13 hits. She was 1-4 at the plate. Zoey Neal was 4-4 with a home run and three RBI; Macey Neal, 3-4 with a RBI; Brittney Kolwyck, 1-3 with a RBI; Emery Presley, 1-3; and Jaci White, 1-4.
Unaka 5, Gibson Co. 3
Unaka took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning in the win-or-go-home game.
Gibson Co. held Unaka to one run in the fourth thanks to a double play started by GCHS left fielder Emery Presley who tracked down a ball for an out then threw to third baseman Hopgood to tag out a base runner trying to steal to end the fourth inning with Unaka taking a 2-0 lead.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth inning, Lexie Garner reached on an error and was replaced by courtesy runner Brianna Bates who stole second base. Jaci White singled to right-center field, scoring Bates to make it 2-1 Unaka.
With two outs in the fifth inning, Chloe Hopgood replaced Lexie Garner on the mound for the Lady Pioneers, but Unaka added a run to take a 3-1 lead.
Savannah Fletcher singled to right field to start the bottom of the sixth inning. Macie Tucker came in to pinch run for Fletcher. Tucker stole second base and scored on single up the middle by Molly Lamar to make it 3-2 Unaka.
With the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, Hopgood struck out Abby Fuel to end the inning. In the bottom of the frame, with one out, Zoey Neal singled, Hopgood hit into a fielder’s choice and Fletcher hit a RBI single to center field to tie the game at 3-3 and force extra innings.
Unaka came right back and scored two runs in the top of the eighth inning, but Presley made a great diving catch on a line drive to save a run to end the inning with Unaka leading 5-3.
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Presley doubled to the left field fence. Lamar popped out to the shortstop, and Brittney Kolwyck followed with a single to right field. Macey Neal hit a hard line drive back up the middle, but Unaka pitcher’s glove got a piece of the ball and reflected it back to the second baseman for the force out at second to end the Lady Pioneers’ season.
Hopgood took the loss. She pitched three and a third innings, giving up five hits, four walks and striking out four. Lexie Garner pitched four and two-thirds innings, giving up five hits, three walks and striking out four.
Hitting for the Lady Pioneers were Savannah Fletcher, 2-4 with a RBI; Brittney Kolwyck, 2-4 with a double; Zoey Neal, 2-4; Jaci White, 1-3 with two RBI; Chloe Hopgood, 1-4 with a RBI; Molly Lamar, 1-4 with a RBI’ and Emery Presley, 1-4 with a double.
“I had made a comment to the girls earlier in the week that we needed to win a game at the state tournament to show that we belonged there,” Lownsdale said. “Even though the games didn’t go our way, I told them they’ve shown they belonged there. Despite numerous injuries throughout the season, this group has made accomplishments that no Lady Pioneer team has before: District Champions, Regional Champions, sectional wins and a second trip to state. No coach could be prouder of a team that worked together throughout to put together another great run at the end. Thank you again for anyone who has helped my girls in any way. It has been a great season as our program continues to climb.”