Story and Photos by Rusty Ellis
The Upperman Lady Bees needed two victories on Wednesday to keep their season alive, and they did just that with wins over DeKalb County and Macon County.
In game one, neither team got on the board until the bottom of the second when the Tigerettes’ Gracie Randolph singled in the game’s first run to give DeKalb a 1-0 lead.
DCHS starter Bri Murphy held Upperman scoreless until the top of the fourth when Macy Robbins drove in a run with a ground-out to knot the game.
The Lady Bees took the lead in the fifth, when an Allie Jennings line-drive bounced out of Aniston Farler’s glove to allow another run to score.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, DeKalb’s Raylie Cowan belted a fly-ball off of the left-centerfield wall with Aly Griffith on first base. Upperman ended the game as a perfect team-up by Jennings, Addison McElhaney and Kira Hancock led to the final out of the game being made at home plate.
When the dust settled, it was the Lady Bees who kept their season alive with a 2-1 win.
“We’re just such a gritty, resilient bunch,” said UHS head coach Dustin Williams. “We can come out here and score seven runs to win, or we can grit and grind and win 2-1…we made several key plays defensively, things that we practice daily.”
Another key defensive play that may fly under the radar was one in the bottom of the fifth. With a runner on third base, third baseman Mel Pride made a throw on a hard-hit ground-ball from her knees to finish the inning and preserve the 2-1 lead.
Pride is normally known for being clutch at the plate, but as Williams points out, she also deserves plenty of recognition for what she does at the hot corner.
“Hands-down, the play of the day,” Williams said. “It saved us a run, and Mel has been a staple at third base for us for four years. Mel’s told me she thinks she’s regressed at the plate, but where she’s regressed in her mind, she’s added to and progressed on defense. Just a spectacular kid who’s going to an Ivy League school, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for her.”
The final play is what will deservedly draw a lot of attention, and it was executed perfectly on all three fronts with regards to the initial fielding, the cut-off throw and the play at the plate by catcher Kira Hancock.
“When the ball first left the bat, I thought it was gone,” Williams said. “It hit off the top of the fence, and Addison McElhaney did a great job fielding it off the fence…she relayed to Allie Jennings, and Kira does a tremendous job behind the plate. It’s something we practice every day, and it worked out for us this time.”
After earning a complete-game win against DeKalb, Leah McElhaney earned another start against Macon County. Thanks to an RBI single from Mel Pride, she took the circle with a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
This is where the senior, who’s had an excellent season, began to show some fatigue however, as the first five batters reached for Macon. This led to Williams putting in Reece Kimmel in relief, who got out of the inning with only four runs allowed for the Tigerettes.
Kimmel and Morgan Green each pitched in relief for the Lady Bees, as they combined for seven shutout innings to keep the game within reach for Upperman.
The fifth inning saw Upperman finally start to break through against Macon starter Ellie Coley, though two base-running mistakes limited the Lady Bees to just one run in the inning to make it 4-2.
Neither team really threatened again until the seventh inning, when Upperman had three outs remaining to salvage the season.
And salvage they did, as a two-run double by Abigail Johnson highlighted a three-run inning to take a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the frame.
Macon County managed to put a few runners on in the frame, even getting Cadence Carter to third base with two outs. She was stranded there however, as Green induced a pop-up to finish the game and send Upperman to the District 7/AAA Championship game with a 5-4 win.
“It’s our process, and we all have to buy in and trust it,” Williams said. “This team has played in tough games, and we talk about it every day in practice: we haven’t lost a game, we’ve learned from games we haven’t won.”
For Johnson, it was just a continuation of what she’s done the entirety of the tournament thus far. She hit late home runs against Stone Memorial and White County, and she came up big once again for Williams against Macon County.
“I’m lobbying for her on the All-Tournament team,” Williams said. “She just needs to come out and keep doing it.”
For Johnson, she says she was just focused on trying to keep the game alive in her big seventh-inning at-bat.
“I just knew I needed to get a hit,” Johnson said. “Once I saw it go down the line and I saw Jaycee (Sweeney) and Mel cross home plate, I got excited. I just wanted to help the team and do my part to help us succeed.”
A region berth awaits the Lady Bees beyond this week, but the District 7/AAA Championship is still to come. And waiting for Upperman is the host of the tournament and red-hot White County Warriorettes.
“Nobody thought we would come in here tonight and take two, so nobody’s going to give us a chance on Thursday to take two,” Williams said. “This team knows what it’s like to win big games, so we need an inning-by-inning focus in the first game, and see what happens from there.”