If Clifford Kirk had been there Thursday to see the unraveling, he might've thrown his cap.
In the old days he certainly would have. He at least would've turned it sideways on his head this time and made a facial expression of disgust at some point.
The Region 3-A high school softball final between Whitwell and host Sale Creek, which began Wednesday, resumed with a 1-1 score and a Sale Creek baserunner in scoring position with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. The visiting Lady Tigers ended up creating a little more trouble for themselves before escaping damage and then used a four-run eighth inning for a 5-1 victory.
Sale Creek (21-17-1) will play Friday at Region 4 champion Gordonsville in a state sectional, and Whitwell (22-15-2) will host Trousdale County on Saturday. Both games are scheduled at 7 p.m. EDT, and winners will advance to the state tournament.
Play was suspended Wednesday because Kirk, a longtime local softball coach in his first season heading the Lady Panthers program, collapsed on the field. Sale Creek principal Tobin Davidson said Kirk was given CPR almost immediately by some people in attendance and soon after was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he currently remains in recovery.
"Sale Creek and Whitwell are two small towns," Whitwell coach Grace Pickett said. "We're more like family. Last night brought us together. We were all playing for Clifford today."
Winning pitcher Riley Long registered a strikeout on the first batter she faced Thursday, but strike three skipped away, and ultimately thanks to an infielder missing a throw, runners ended up on third and first. But with the next batter up and the runner from first running, the Lady Tigers turned a short foul popout into a double play.
Whitwell's Alyssa Coppinger led off the eighth with a double and two batters later scored on Hailey Andregg's single. Kathleen Sledge followed with a two-RBI double. Kacee Hedrick's single closed the scoring.
Long, who walked one and had five strikeouts, gave up her sixth hit of the game to Brittany Lanham with two outs in the bottom half before catching the final out herself.
"It wasn't even a celebration," Pickett said of what happened afterward. "We were thinking about Clifford."
Sledge went 2-for-2, and Coppinger was 2-for-4 with a triple. In the third inning, KayeAnn Patton doubled, moved up on Coppinger's groundout and scored on Storm Roberts' single.
Sale Creek's Miranda Barnette was 3-for-4 and scored in the sixth on Lanham's fielder's choice.
"I think it might work to our advantage that we're going to play at Gordonsville," said an emotional Kendra Goforth, Kirk's assistant coach who was in charge Thursday. "Them coming back to this field could be hard."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.