CHURCH HILL — As far as Volunteer softball coach Jackie Strickler is concerned, the group of players who rung up 36 victories and won the Region 1-AAA championship under his watch this season will go down as the best team to ever represent Volunteer High School.
But on Saturday, the Lady Falcons ran up against a battle-tested team steeped in postseason experience, and Maryville simply made a few more plays when it mattered most.
The Lady Rebels launched a pair of home runs and Maryville pitcher Maddie Ogle escaped a tough jam in the bottom of the sixth inning en route to a 4-1 victory over Volunteer in a TSSAA sectional contest.
The win propelled Maryville into its third state tournament in the past four years and ended an amazing run by the Lady Falcons.
"I honestly believe this is the best team to ever come through Volunteer in any sport," Strickler said. "Those four seniors, they have over a hundred wins. I couldn't be happier with that group of kids."
It took Volunteer most of the game to draw a bead on Ogle, who motored through the first five innings while allowing just one hit, two walks and one hit batsman. Strickler said his players wanted to make Ogle throw more pitches early, but her control was simply too good.
"She's an outstanding pitcher," Strickler said. "It took us several innings to get adjusted to what she was throwing. Toward the end, we got to where we were putting the ball in play and getting some good licks off it."
In the meantime, Maryville was able to build a 4-0 lead. The Lady Rebels struck first in the third inning when they scored an unearned run off a Volunteer error.
They doubled their advantage in the fourth when Cayan Arnold connected on a solo homer and doubled it again in the top of the sixth when Ravan Boyd hit a two-run shot over the left-field wall.
Despite the deficit, the Lady Falcons never quit. After senior Kellie Kirk led off the bottom of the sixth with a single, Kenzie Dixon followed with a run-scoring hit to get the Lady Falcons on the board. Volunteer loaded the bases with one out, but Ogle calmly recorded a strikeout and induced a grounder to end the threat.
"Bases loaded with one out, she gets a strikeout and a groundout," Maryville coach David Allen said of Ogle. "But that's why she's at where she's at. She's a very special player."
The Lady Falcons went down in order in the seventh, but Kirk said they fought hard to the end.
"We came from behind so many times," Kirk said. "It just didn't happen today. We went out with a fight. We never gave up."
Morgan Marshall, Volunteer's sophomore phenom, threw a good game, allowing just three earned runs on five hits with 10 strikeouts and just two walks. But in the end, the Lady Falcons couldn't provide enough run support to send themselves to Murfreesboro.
"She's a good pitcher," Allen said of Marshall. "A few hits here or there and it could have been a different ballgame."
Strickler said this particular group of players will be the toughest group he's ever had to let go of. The Lady Falcons will return plenty of key players from this year's team, including both their pitchers, next season, but Strickler said there's no replacing the leadership provided by the senior class.
All he can hope is that the returning players build on the foundation those seniors have established.
"We put ourselves in a position to come back. We scored one there," Strickler said. "But it's just one of them things. It shows the grit these kids had all year. They just keep battling.
"Those four seniors planted that seed. Hopefully we can get back and take one more step."comments powered by Disqus