By Matt Myers
An RBI triple, 10 strikeouts and no hits allowed.
Kalee Johnson’s MVP performance in the Little Watauga conference title game speaks for itself, but afterward it mattered little to the youngster. The tournament MVP chose to speak about being a Happy Valley player, and the teamwork it took to garner a 14-1 record this season — a season that would reach complete fruition with a 6-0 conference championship win over Johnson County Tuesday night at the foot of Warrior Hill.
“I couldn’t do anything without my teammates,” said a jubilant Johnson after the Lady Warriors’ triumphant “dirt dive” into the pitcher’s mound. “We did this together; we put the practice in and listened to Coach Greer. The no-hitter was completely in the back of my mind. It wasn’t important at all; we just wanted to go out by out and get the win as a unit.”
Menacing dark clouds set over the playing field as the contest began, but it was the bats of the Lady Warriors that assured those in attendance that a storm was coming. A maroon and white storm.
All-tournament selectee Beth Reece got it all started for HVMS (15-1) as she blasted an RBI triple to the right-field fence from her three spot in the bottom of the first. The shot scored Kenzie Davis, and left the Lady Warriors with a palpable momentum early.
Johnson would score Reece on the next at bat with a triple of her own. All-tourney performer Kennedy Richardson and Emily Whitaker iced the five-at-bat hit streak with back-to-back singles, and by the close of the first the Lady Warriors had a 4-0 lead.
For the next three and a half innings, defensive softball reigned on both sides.
As has been the case all year. The Lady Jr. Longhorns hung tough. All-tounament Pitcher Brianna Snyder was the defensive leader for the Lady Longhorns from her spot on the mound, and a five-K night for the stalwart was the result.
All-tournament shortstop Jayme Jennings, third baseman Kelsey DuPerry and first baseman Bailey Spencer rounded out a Lady Longhorn infield that allowed no runs until the bottom of the fifth. The stand, coupled with hardnosed play from the Lady ’Horns throughout the Little Watauga tourney, garnered the ladies from Mountain City the respectful admiration of their skipper, Greg Reece.
“Despite this loss I am very proud of my team — I think they really earned respect in this tournament,” said Reece before the all-tournament presentation. “This is our first conference championship appearance in the history of our program here at JCMS, and I think that is a testament to how hard these girls have worked all year. Thirteen and nine for us represented a really solid year where these girls worked hard to get back on track and remain consistent. We had oppurtunites in this game, and you know we just didn’t capitalize. I don’t put that result on these girls at all — their effort was solid. At the end of the day we were just facing good bats and great pitching.”
Johnson’s superior pitching continued throughout the JCMS’ exhibition of defense, and in the bottom of the fifth inning the Warriors proved that they were interested in “quality not quantity” offensively. Davis displayed the offensive prowess that earned her all-tourney honors with an RBI double to center to score Sydney Puckett; and Johnson sent Davis across home plate with a “fielder’s choice” to set the score at 6-0 in favor of the Lady Warriors.
It would be a lead they would not relinquish as Johnson County’s last two at-bats fell victim to a HVMS defense that has remained consistent all year. After the contest, HV coach Mandy Greer spoke about the defensively consistent nature of her squad, as well as her pride in what they’ve accomplished,
“We have stepped up all year, I am so proud of these girls and the intensity they bring to the table,” said Greer in the wake of the celebration. “These girls they take pride in defense, and they have remained focused with it all year. Of course Kalee was great — she has become such a focused student-athlete — but it was a complete team effort. These girls wanted to be champions, and they came out here and went about their business.”