Overwhelming talent? No.
Great chemistry, uncanny mental toughness and a sense of destiny? Yes.
The Lady Patriots rode all three intangibles to the Class AAA championship in Murfreesboro, and brought back the first state softball title to Dandridge.
Up and down the lineup, there’s no question that Jefferson County coach Hillary Love got the most out of her players during the historic 2019 season.
She pushed all of the right buttons and the players responded with aplomb.
“Before the start of the season I didn’t know if we had the talent – as far as athletes – but I knew we had speed, hitting and pitching,” said Love, the 5Star Preps Softball Coach of the Year.
“If you have all three of those in high school, you’re sitting pretty good.”
The Lady Patriots (26-11) were at their best in the postseason as they navigated a path dotted with potential land mines.
They won five games by one run, starting with a 2-1 victory against Cocke County in the District 2-AAA tournament.
“When I saw we drew Cocke County first I thought we might not even make it out of the district tournament,” admitted Love.
But the big wins in often pressure-packed situations against top-notch competition starting rolling in.
There was a 3-2 win at favored Daniel Boone in a Region 1-AAA semifinal elimination contest.
The Lady Patriots then defeated Morristown East 5-3 in the region title game to earn the coveted home-field advantage in the sectionals against Farragut.
Ashley Whitley walked in Erica Lewanski in the 11th inning to give the Lady Patriots a 1-0 victory over the Lady Admirals and send Jefferson County to its first state tournament since 2010.
The hot play continued in the state tournament as the Lady Patriots mowed down Halls (3-1), Dyer County (11-1) and Siegel (1-0) in order to move into the championship bracket.
A 10-1 loss to Siegel forced the “if necessary” game for the championship.
In typical fashion, Jefferson County bounced back with a 3-0 win over the highly touted Lady Stars to nail down the state crown.
It would have been hard to pick an MVP for the Lady Patriots in the postseason.
You had the lights-out pitching performance by Catelyn Riley, who allowed just two runs in her four wins in Murfreesboro.
What about offensive catalyst Makayla Alvey, who batted over .600 during the state tournament and scored nine runs?
Who will ever forget the postseason play of Abbie Ferguson?
The junior first baseman had only three home runs during the regular season.
Yet she belted three game-winning homers in the postseason, including a dramatic two-run shot in the sixth inning to give the Lady Patriots a 3-1 win over Halls in the first round of the state tournament.
The rest of Jefferson County’s cast certainly had their moments too, including Jessica Odom and Santanna Hall.
“These girls were a lot of fun to coach, and we played really good at the right time,” said Love, in her 11th season as Lady Patriots coach.
“We let everybody know where our standard is.”