By Maurice Patton
MURFREESBORO — Hailey Jones hit 20 home runs Thursday — 19 to win the Home Run Derby portion of the Tennessee Softball Coaches Association’s all-star event at Riverdale’s Lady Warrior Field, and one to prevent the Middle Tennessee stars from getting swept on the day.
Following her Summertown teammate Claire Woods, who hit 17 homers to take the lead in the slugging exhibition, Jones caught fire from the left side of the plate.
“I knew Hailey was going to beat me,” said Woods, the TSCA’s selection as Class A Miss Softball after a senior season during which she hit seven roundtrippers and batted .410 while going 21-1 with 197 strikeouts in the circle. “I just had a feeling. She kills it. She hits ‘em off me in practice, too.”
While Woods, a Middle Tennessee State signee, was a home run derby veteran — “I’ve never won one,” she said — Jones was a reluctant participant Thursday.
“I’ve never been in one before (Thursday),” the North Alabama recruit said. “I didn’t really want to do it at first, but my mom (Anisha) wanted me to do it. I did it because she wanted me to.”
As Jones said, she “started out kinda slow, but picked it up,” getting into a groove with the help of Lady Eagles coach Greg Burleson, who pitched to both.
“It helps that Coach Burleson was the one throwing to us,” Woods said. “That’s probably our last time he’ll be able to throw to us. It’s kinda bittersweet.”
Hitting out of the leadoff position primarily for the Class A state champion Lady Eagles, Jones led Summertown with 12 homers while batting .402 on the year.
“I consider myself more an ‘on-base’ hitter – line drives,” Jones said. “I was kinda nervous after (Woods) went up there. I thought, I’ll be happy if I just hit five over.
“When you hit one, it’s just like a repetitive thing. Just keep the same motion.”
Jones and Woods were the lone derby participants to hit more than 10 homers during the competition.
Woods worked the final three innings in the circle, with Jones getting the start at first base as the Middle Tennessee all-stars fell to the East Tennessee contingent 3-1 in the opening contest. The lone run for the Midstate stars came on a first-inning solo home run by Forrest’s Laura Mealer, also an MTSU signee.
Following a second East Tennessee win over the West stars by an 8-2 margin, Woods drew the pitching assignment with Jones in center field for the finale. Woods worked two scoreless innings, along with a triple and a single and two runs scored.
Jones had three hits, including a second-inning double and her seventh-inning solo shot that put the Midstate stars ahead 6-5 after the West team rallied from a five-run deficit.
Once again, though, the West rebounded and tied the game with a run in its final at-bat. Playing with a 1:45 time limit, the 6-6 deadlock at the end of regulation stood as the final score.
Following the game, Jones, Mealer and Forrest’s Ashley Milligan were announced as members of the Tennessee all-star team that will take on the Kentucky all-stars on June 30 at Warren South High School in Bowling Green.
The full list of Tennessee all-stars is as follows:
Aubrey Barnhart, Goodpasture; Delayna Bryant, Powell; Jessica Dennis, Sequatchie Co.; Eden Frazier, Heritage; Ellie Hickman, Rhea Co.; Jade Howard, Brighton; Hailey Jones, Summertown; Laura Mealer, Forrest; Ashley Milligan, Forrest; Kendal Pitts, Maryville; Catelyn Riley, Jefferson Co.; Mauri Robbins, Sweetwater; Syerra Rogers, East Hamilton; Becca Williams, Heritage; Cameron Young, Farragut.