By Chris Yow
MURFREESBORO — Whether in the school’s hallways or even in media coverage, the rumblings of high expectations for Columbia Academy softball to win its second straight state softball championship were unavoidable.
Lucky for the Lady Dawgs — like a lump of coal turning into a diamond– they thrived under pressure and will eventually have some bling to show following Thursday’s 2-1 Division II-A state championship game win over Tipton-Rosemark.
Averi Slaughter is emotionless most of the time she’s in the circle, but there was no way to contain the joy and relief she felt while her entire team piled on top of her.
“I’m not one to cry, but when I was on the bottom of that pile, it was like a ton of weight and stress of the whole season just lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
The pressure of winning a state championship was something coach Seth Anderson has tried to downplay to his team, but it’s also pushed his team in difficult situations to play at a remarkably high level. Trailing by a run in the fourth inning, Myleah Hardy took a fastball to the elbow before two flyballs to center field brought Journey Mitchell to the plate.
Mitchell singled, and Anderson made a decision to go ahead and substitute a runner for the senior, bringing in Margaret Adams. The foresight of Anderson is to be commended because on the next at-bat, Chloe Carter popped the ball up into shallow center field. Tipton-Rosemark’s freshman shortstop Brooke Harrison dove, caught the ball, but as she landed the ball jostled out of her grasp and briefly hit the turf, allowing Hardy to score and tie the game.
Carter said she wasn’t sure what was going to happen when she hit it, but she knew it had a chance to fall in for a hit, so she never checked up around first base.
“I was just running and hoping. To be honest, I thought she caught it, but I was so happy when I saw it hit the ground,” she said.
Anderson may not be a psychic, but his intuition was spot-on, as Adams scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball before Laney Turner grounded out to end the inning.
“I don’t know if I would say I knew it was going to happen, but being down a run at that point, I knew we had to tie it,” he said. “Putting Margaret on, who has good speed, you never know when those opportunities are going to happen.”
From there, it was all Slaughter, but not without some drama.
Tipton-Rosemark’s Harrison doubled in both the fifth and the seventh, and Anderson chose to intentionally walk Kayla Clement both times — to set up force plays, but also because Clement had hits in each of her first two at-bats in the game.
“Averi’s done well all year long. Credit to T-R, they’re a good lineup. We respected (Clement) enough to put her on a couple times, but I thought Averi handled that pressure well,” Anderson said.
That decision was one Slaughter was fine with, as she was well-aware of Clement’s abilities.
“I thought it was smart. I’ve played with her before, so I knew she could hit. Putting her on added a little pressure, but I knew I had to pull through,” she said.
Pull through she did.
Slaughter retired Alannah Naumann on strikes to end the fifth, but allowed Naumann to single and load the bases in the seventh before getting a fly ball from Ryleigh Bowers to fall into the glove of shortstop Tori Duval for the final out.
“I think the pressure the girls handled all year is incredible,” said Anderson, who led the 2019 Lady Bulldogs to the Class A championship. “We’re a talented group, and we had high expectations of ourselves, but everywhere we would hear about the expectations these 15-, 16-, 17-year-old girls have on them.
“For them to come through, it’s big.”