By Thomas Sellers Jr.
It was just yesterday the quartet of Kayla Joyner, Sally Downing, Jordan Collins and Ashton Needham was doing the little things as freshmen to help the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels win the 2011 Division II-A State championship.
Fast forward to last Thursday on the damp Lady Rebel Field, the four girls are the senior leaders of a team two victories away from returning to the State Tournament for the first time since 2012. After Needham was walked with the bases loaded in the fifth inning, TRA had a 2-1 win over Friendship Christian Commanders and stood one victory away from returning to State.
The Lady Rebel Class of 2014 have won more than 80 games, a State championship, a regular-season Region title in 2012, appeared in State twice and won the school’s first Regional Tournament earlier this month led by MVP Rachel Whitley.
It was Needham taking to the pitching circle for game one of the Sub-State series against the Commanders. Friendship made the trip to Rosemark more than 3 hours away.
The Commanders jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning. The Lady Rebels tied the contest in the fourth inning when Bethany Berger led off with a single.
Berger was able to score,l using her speed around the bases and a Jordyn Thornell base hit. TRA was able to break the 1-1 deadlock in the next inning when Needham was walked with the bases loaded.
“Being my senior year it’s kind of emotional,” Needham said of the win. “But we had this huge meeting yesterday before everything and we talked about everything. We mostly said, ‘Just have fun.’ You know how we get too serious about things and stressed out about it. In the end, it’s just a game. We need to get our there and just have fun and play for each others.”
With one victory under her belt, Needham felt some relief. But Friendship proved they are capable of winning two games in the series. Now as one of the leaders on the team, Needham said she keeping the Lady Rebels focused on the goal was a priority.
“I feel more pressure now,” she acknowledged. “Four years ago being a freshman you’re like, ‘Oh she’s just a freshman.’ But now it’s more like I’m obligated to keep my team up and keep them focused. And they have been focused. I can’t do it without them.”
Needham said along with the seniors, young players like Taylor Beasley, Katie Diggs, Anne Claire Williams, Whitley and Berger have contributed throughout the postseason run.
Just one win away, Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello handed the ball to his eighth-grade standout Whitley. Needham said she took from the lessons of Lady Rebels legends Mady Kate Gantt and Roxy Kimes to help get her young teammate prepared.
“I used to get talks from them when I was a freshman,” she recalled. “Rachel is pitching the next game. I know she’ll be a little nervous. But I’ll give her the little pep talk I give her before every game. She’ll be great, I know it.”
Whitley and the Lady Rebels did great later that night winning the second game to lock up a spot in this week’s Division II-A State Softball Tournament in Murfreesboro.