The Carter High School 2024 softball team poses for a picture after making history Friday with its sectional win over David Crockett that advances the Lady Hornets to their first-ever TSSAA state tournament. In the background, the scoreboard shows the final score.

Lady Hornets sting Crockett 5-4 for first trip to state

By Steve Williams

Winning its first region title in school history wasn’t enough.

Carter High’s determined softball team took an early lead, watched it slip away, then got it back and held on in the top of the seventh inning for a 5-4 victory over David Crockett Friday and its first-ever sectional win and trip to the TSSAA state tournament.

“We could have easily rolled over and died when they came back, but we didn’t,” said first-year Head Coach Nicole Light. “We fought to the very end. Everybody did their job, everybody had a role and they executed.”

After knocking off perennial state power Gibbs 5-1 in the region finals Wednesday, the Lady Hornets stung the Lady Pioneers, who were seeking their first trip to the state in almost 30 years.

“I can’t believe it,” said Coach Light after some celebrating. “I’m still in shock. I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. But this community and this program mean so much to me. They shaped who I am as a person because this is where I came from, so it makes it even more special.”

Carter (19-9) will play in the state tournament at the Spring Fling in Murfreesboro this week, with games scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Gibbs’ sectional game against Tennessee High was scheduled to be played Sunday due to graduation ceremonies and weather conditions Friday and Saturday.

Carter got off to a good start against Crockett. A two-out double into the left field gap by McKinley Grubb brought home Kayla Rucker, who had been hit by a pitch, for the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning.

The Lady Hornets added another run in the second when Jenna Wilson singled and scored on a half-swing double down the left field line by Chloe Hicks.

Quick reaction on a catch by Carter third baseman Gracie Miller helped keep Crockett (22-16) scoreless in the third inning.

Grubb doubled again in the bottom of the third and Wilson beat out an infield single, but the two Lady Hornets were left stranded.

Crockett tied the game in the top of the fourth on a long two-run homer to left center by Chelsea Williams that busted a car windshield.

The Lady Pioneers’ home run power continued in the fifth when Julie Maupin’s two-out solo shot to left center gave Crockett a 3-2 lead.

Grubb got her third hit – a single that fell in between three defenders in shallow right field – to lead off the Carter fifth inning, but Crockett pitcher Madelyn Dulaney retired the next three batters in row to protect the Lady Pioneers’ 3-2 advantage.

Carter pitcher Malaney Etherton overcame a 3-0 count and struck out Williams with a fast ball that nipped the inside corner of the plate – possibly her best pitch of the contest – and then stranded two base runners with another strikeout to end the inning.

Then came the decisive bottom of the sixth for Carter. Ivey Jones led off with a walk. Marah Yeo and Hicks followed with bunt singles and a throwing error to first by the Crockett pitcher brought home the tying run by Jones.

A grounder to third by Rucker loaded the bases, but Grubb struck out on a 3-2 full count.

Then came the heroics by Miller as she drilled a hard single past the shortstop to drive in Yeo and Hicks and give Carter a 5-3 lead.

The Lady Pioneers didn’t easily go down in the top of the seventh. Brylee Tullock, the No. 2 batter in the lineup, reached on a hit by pitch. Maupin smacked a double off of shortstop Rucker’s glove to put runners on second and third.

Etherton got clean-up batter Lana Britton to fly out to second for the first out. She then got reserve Lexi Hawkins to ground out to Rucker, with Tullock scoring from third to cut Carter’s lead to one run with two outs. An infield hit by Bailey Dugger advanced Maupin to third.

With runners on first and third and two outs, Etherton struck out Haley Corum on a 2-2 pitch to end the game.

“I’m so proud of this team,” said Miller after the game. “This team is literally my heart. I don’t know where I would be without them.”

Gracie was asked what’s it going to be like going to state?

“I don’t know, it’s our first time,” she said. “I’m ready. I’m excited. I want to win.”

And what was Miller thinking when she went to the plate with the score tied in the sixth?

“I wasn’t thinking nothing, not a single thing,” she said. “I was just calm as a bee. I was ready to hit and I guess it just happened.”

Calm as a bee? Well, they are the Lady Hornets … and state bound!