MURFEESBORO -- The championships were wonderful. The memories were too.
But as a purely practical matter, Lee Phillips knew a day like Saturday would eventually come – whether he and his Goodpasture softball team wanted it or not.
“Realistically, we knew it would have end sometime,” Phillips said after the Lady Cougars saw their streak of six straight Class AA state titles come to an end at StarPlex.
Unicoi County’s Ali Gardner belted a three-run homer in the third inning and the Blue Devils held on behind the pitching of Kara Woods for a 3-1 victory in the championship game.
Goodpasture ended its season 41-5-1, with two of the losses to Unicoi County (48-4) in the tournament. The teams split 2-1 decisions earlier this week, forcing the winner-take-all final.
The Lady Cougars scored first after two singles and a sacrifice to put runners in scoring position. Tiffany Hibbs scored on Mimi Cartwright’s fielders’ choice, and Goodpasture was poised for a big inning.
But Brittany Elmore’s liner was caught by the third baseman and slugger Kelsey Cartwright’s deep flyout ended the inning.
Goodpasture pitcher Cheyanne Knepper retired the next hitter, but two singles brought up Gardner, who homered to left.
“She’s a great hitter,” Phillips said. “She had a couple of more hits today, and she hit the home run (Friday night) that tied the game … I couldn’t tell if it was out (when it left the bat). Kelsey hit one, too, and I thought that might have been gone, too.”
It was only the second time this season Goodpasture had allowed three runs in a game. The other instance was in a March tournament in Alabama.
Goodpasture had six hits, but only two after Gardner’s homer. Megan Bryant led off the bottom of the third with a single, but was stranded. Brittney Toney had a one-out single in the seventh, a hit that gave Phillips and the Lady Cougars a final breath.
“I was hoping we could get some another runner or two and get Kelsey to the plate,” the coach said.
The victory touched off a wild celebration for Unicoi County. Catcher Whitley Hensley said the Blue Devils’ joy was much more than about stopping Goodpasture’s reign.
“We’re playing for more than just our high school – we really play for our whole community, and everybody in town is behind us,” Hensley said. “Being from east Tennessee, we were the underdogs. We always have been the underdogs and we always will be the underdogs.