By Thomas Sellers Jr.
MURFREESBORO – The Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels didn’t need any reminders that they were the underdogs entering Friday’s Division II-A State Softball Tournament title game.
But just in case they needed one, a fan in the Murfreesboro Sports Complex & McKnight Field took it upon himself to give a refresher.
“I built on all the negativity,” TRA starter Ashton Needham said. “We’ve had a lot of people along the way say we couldn’t do it. Just reading different articles predicting other teams to win.
“Even before the game we had somebody sitting behind our dugout saying we didn’t deserve to be where we are,” she added. “This feels kind of great.”
The great feeling came at the conclusion of the State championship game when the Lady Rebels dominated the Davidson Academy Lady Bears 8-4 to win the title. The victory gave the program its second championship in school history and No. 1 for first-year Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello.
“These girls have been tested all year long,” he said. “We’ve been in so many ball games. In 11 losses, six of those have been by two or three runs. Stepping up against the bigger schools and playing some tournaments, playing Arlington and Munford, beating some of those guys that’s what you’ve got to do to get better.
“I guess we peaked at the right time,” Sanfratello added. “They were tested all year, and I knew we could do it. They just had to believe.’
The TRA players, coaches and fans believed. The doubters started to become believers in the first inning when Needham drove in teammate Taylor Beasley to make the score 1-0.
Davidson tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the third inning. TRA took the lead for good in the fifth inning when senior Jordan Collins started a rally with a single. Rachel Whitley followed with a base hit of her own. Katie Diggs loaded the bases with a single setting the stage for freshman Anna Claire Williams. The youthful Rebel delivered with a base hit to score two runners making the tally 3-1. The Lady Bears cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 3-2.
The Lady Rebels put up five runs in the sixth inning to seize control of the game. Collins delivered a big blow stroking a double to the outfield to score a run to make the tally 5-2.
“I went up there with confidence knowing I could hit it,” Collins said. “I just had that pitcher’s number. I hit it every time I went up there.”
Diggs made the score 6-2 with a sacrifice fly in the frame. Then Williams singled in another run to make the score 7-2. Rebel senior Sally Downing closed out the scoring for TRA with a double of her own to drive home a run making the score 8-2.
Despite two runs for Davidson in the seventh inning, TRA recorded the final out giving the school its second State championship and a 27-11 overall record.
“We never gave up,” Collins said. “I knew we were underdogs as freshmen too. No one expected us, and at the beginning of the year nobody expected us to get this year like in our freshmen year.”
TRA’s first championship came in 2011 when Collins, Downing, Needham and Kayla Joyner were ninth graders. The squad was led by players like Roxy Kimes, Jordan Whitley and Mady Kate Gantt. It was on the same field the Lady Rebels won on Friday morning, Kimes pitched TRA to history. Needham was a baby-face soaking in the moment that day.
“It means so much definitely being a senior,” she said. “Getting one our freshmen year and finishing up strong, it’s emotional. Some of the girls I’ve played with, I can’t even remember. I’ve known for so long. It’s kind of sad, bittersweet. But its an overall good feeling.”
Needham said the experience of 2011 and lesson from Kimes assisted her against Davidson Academy during the tough moments.
“I learned a lot from her pitchingwise,” she said. “I just learned to stay focused and throw strikes and work the corners especially. But she taught me a lot about confidence. I really look up to that.”
The Lady Rebels were underdogs that day and again in 2014. Both times TRA left the field with the golden trophy. For the four seniors it capped off a varsity career with 88 wins and two State titles.
“It says that even though we might be the underdog and people might not believe in us,” Needham said, “that we believe in ourselves more than anything.”
Sanfratello said that senior foundation will be missed.
“They’re going to be tough losses,” he said. “All four of them have been great. When you’ve got somebody you can put out there on the mound and just tell her to go out there and shove it, that’s what she does.
“Of course Jordan Collins, I don’t know if she made an error over there at shortstop,” Sanfratello continued. “She’s going to be tough to replace. I hate to see them all go. They’re all four tough competitors.”
Sanfratello said TRA will hold a special place in its heart for the Lady Rebel Class of 2014.
“I’m going to assume they’re the most successful class in the history of this school,” he concluded. “Two State championships, that kind of helped us. They knew what it was all about and what it takes. And they just did it.”