DECATUR — Kaylee Whitson had started only twice this season.
Facing a traditional state power with a state tournament trip on the line didn’t rattle the South Greene sophomore. Whitson didn’t allow any earned runs, but one swing eventually lifted Meigs County to its eighth TSSAA state tournament appearance. The Lady Tigers fought off a resilient South Greene team 4-2 in Thursday’s Class 2A sectional.
Coach Jeff Davis’ Lady Tigers (23-5) will make their first Spring Fling appearance since winning their third straight TSSAA state championship in 2018.
South Greene’s regular starting pitcher Lexi Miller had moved to centerfield for the injured Katie Willett, and No. 2 pitcher Anna Willett manned first base due to soreness in one of her hands. Whitson filled in nicely. Apart from Meigs County’s three-hit third inning, Whitson scattered six hits and threw five shutout frames.
“Kaylee is very capable, and she showed that tonight,” said South Greene coach Amy Hawk, who guided the Lady Rebels to their first district championship since 2003 and first sectional berth since 2016.
Whitson lowered her earned run average to 3.387, the lowest of South Greene’s three main pitchers.
Lainey Fitzgerald struck out 11 South Greene batters to get the three-hit win. And she helped her cause in a major way in the third inning.
Carlee McLemore had tied the game with her RBI double to right field.
Two batters later, Fitzgerald hammered a three-run home run over the centerfield wall, giving the Lady Tigers a 4-1 lead.
The home run stung further because Whitney Casteel had caught a one-out line drive and tried to double off a runner at second. The umpire ruled the runner had made it back safely, avoiding the third out and setting up Fitzgerald’s bomb.
“I feel like we outplayed them,” Hawk said. “I feel like we were the better team tonight. I feel like there were a couple things that happened in that third inning out of our control that if it had gone a different way, we might be celebrating.”
South Greene did double off a runner to end the fourth, as Hannah Penley caught a fly ball and fired to Casteel at second. It was the Lady Rebels’ second double play, and their first ended the opening frame. Amelia Mullins threw to Casteel at second, and Casteel fired to Anna Willett at first.
RADER RALLIES REBELS
Evie Rader, one of seven South Greene seniors, went 2-for-3 to lead the Lady Rebels. Her two-out RBI single in the first inning scored Casteel for a 1-0 lead which lasted until the third. The line drive to center field came on a 0-2 count.
Casteel had led off with a single to right, as South Greene got two of its three hits in the first inning.
“If I’d had (as a player) what Evie has, I’d have been a stud and everybody would’ve known it,” Hawk said. “She’s very humble. She got down two strikes, swung and missed and I saw her drop her head, and I was like no … don’t you dare.”
Rader certainly listened. She sent a one-out solo home run to left field in the fourth to keep South Greene’s spirits up.
END OF THE ROAD
Hannah Penley, Anna Willett, Sydney Gentry, Miller, Casteel, Rader and Mullins saw their high school softball careers end with the defeat. The Lady Rebels finished 19-15 overall.
“Every senior class is special to you when you spend that much time with somebody,” Hawk said. “But this group of girls, five of them have been together a really long time … I’m really proud of them.”
Fitzgerald went 2-for-3 to lead Meigs County.