Early Zion tourney provides proving ground for squads

By Maurice Patton

Unlike the previous weekend, winning a championship wasn’t the primary objective for Loretto’s Lady Mustangs as they took the field in Saturday’s Zion Christian Invitational softball tournament.

Welcoming 10 players from the Class A girls basketball state title team, fifth-year coach Justin Tidwell was more concerned with getting the right people in the right places – as were most of the other coaches participating in the six-team tourney.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for the team, where we are position-wise,” Tidwell said as the Lady Mustangs defeated Community 9-6 in the finals. “ … All our pitchers (played basketball). We’re watching pitch counts, trying to get ready for the season. It may take a little to get them acclimated to softball.”

While other teams didn’t have the same personnel issues as Loretto and its heavy influx of basketball players, the preseason was not without its challenges – which gave Saturday’s bracket play and Friday’s scheduled games a bit of a ‘play day’ look for most of the participants.

“We’re putting people in different spots, making sure we’ve got them where they need to be,” veteran Mt. Pleasant coach Misti Grooms said as her Lady Tigers played their way into the losers bracket finals of the double-elimination tournament before falling 5-3 to Community.

“We’re just trying to get some games in. With the weather, last week wasn’t a good week. We’re trying to get some games under our belts.”

Coming at the end of the first week of the regular season, the event was the season opener for a handful of teams. For those that had managed games, that was a slim number. And with preseason scrimmages disallowed by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association as a result of COVID-19 protocols, the opportunity to play a number of contests in a short time was a welcome one for coaches.

“We got in this when I found out we weren’t going to have a preseason,” Spring Hill coach Gary Caperton said. “With so many new faces, we’re trying to figure out who plays where.

“Kat (Carter), D’Naijah (Wade), Bella (Umstead) and Brooke Hill are our four returners from the one-week season (in 2020). Everybody else is brand new or played limited junior varsity. With all these new faces, you’re like – who do we play? Can you play? How many positions have you played? We’re trying to feel out what we’ve got.”

The Lady Raiders advanced to the losers bracket semifinals before Community eliminated them 1-0 despite a 12-strikeout effort from Carter, a Jacksonville State (Ala.) signee. Wade, who signed with Alabama A&M, went 1-for-2 in the loss.

“That’s good for two at-bats, two (defensive) positions,” Caperton said regarding his two NCAA Division I recruits.

Even in losing efforts, the opportunity to get on the field was a valuable one.

“We learned a lot as a team,” first-year Zion Christian coach Russ Adcox said. “We went 0-3, but we competed in every game. We saw a lot we hadn’t had a chance to work on. The best thing was seeing live pitching. We hit the ball well; we’ve just got to tighten up on defense.

“We’ve got six freshmen out there. They haven’t got enough ball under their belts. Once they do, I think they’ll be OK.”

Saturday results

Mt. Pleasant 10, Culleoka 2
Loretto 4, Spring Hill 2
Mt. Pleasant 5, Zion Chr. 4
Loretto 10, Community 4
Spring Hill 14, Culleoka 0
Community 7, Zion Chr. 5
Loretto 7, Mt. Pleasant 3
Community 1, Spring Hill 0
Community 5, Mt. Pleasant 3
Loretto 9, Community 6

Photos by Ric Beu / SM-Tn Sports

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