If Whitwell's Kathleen Sledge tried to erase the memories of last year's Region 3-A semifinal loss at Grace Academy, it didn't work.
Sledge remembers well the transformation from elation to dejection in one late inning on the way to a 6-3 loss that ended the Lady Tigers' softball season. Perhaps making things more painful, the Lady Golden Eagles eventually went on and won the state championship.
As fate would have it, Whitwell is playing at Grace Academy today at 7 p.m. again in a semifinal as region tournaments get under way for TSSAA Division I teams. Winners are slated to play for region championships Wednesday with the finalists moving on to Friday's state sectionals where winners advance to the state tournament.
Last year's Whitwell-Grace semifinal was 1-1 heading to the sixth inning. It was there when Sledge, then a freshman, delivered a what appeared to be a key triple.
She even recalled having a 1-2 count with two outs and putting a good swing on a low pitch from Tory Helton. By the time she pulled into third and celebrated briefly with coach Grace Pickett, two runs had scored.
But not long afterward Sledge had her catcher's gear on and watched as the senior-led Lady Golden Eagles answered with a five-run rally.
"I could see everything being behind the plate," Sledge said. "They came through with some hits, and we didn't make some plays. I couldn't do anything back there except watch our team fall apart."
The Lady Tigers have gained some measure of revenge, beating a young Lady Golden Eagles team 10-3 and 6-3 during the season. But Pickett watched Saturday night as Helton, now a senior, pitched Grace to the District 5 championship with a 1-0 victory over Arts & Sciences.
"How we played earlier in the year doesn't matter because Grace has gotten a lot better," Pickett said. "And Tory is a very good pitcher."
Pickett knows hits can sometimes be harder to come by this far along in postseason, so timely hits like Sledge's in the sixth inning last time could be crucial. It just didn't look so timely after Whitwell made a couple errors to aid Grace's comeback.
"The only thing we have to do is finish, as far as we're concerned," Sledge said. "We're all going to have to go one hundred percent like we always do and we've got to make the routine plays."
Finishing is something that concerns Pickett, too, and something her team didn't do in Saturday's second championship game in the District 6 tournament the Lady Tigers forced by beating Sale Creek in the first game of the final. Maybe they'll get a second postseason chance at playing the Lady Panthers, but that first depends on what happens tonight at Grace.
"They have a good team again," Pickett said. "We've got to come with a lot of heart and work hard.
"It's the same exact thing that happened last year. Hopefully it will end differently this time."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.