BY JESSE SMITHEY
MURFREESBORO — A Gibbs Softball program that was clamoring to get back to a state championship game was one big inning away Thursday from securing that chance.
Only, Lexington did it first.
Locked in a tie game in the seventh inning of a Class 3A state semifinal, Gibbs’ chances at reaching the Class 3A finale for a second consecutive year were dashed by a grand slam by Lexington’s Mykenzi Duke to centerfield.
And her shot sent Lexington into Friday’s championship game against McNairy Central via a 7-3 win Thursday night.
Duke homered twice in the contest against Gibbs (39-6). The Austin Peay signee finished 3 for 3 with five RBIs.
As for the Lady Eagles, they proved to be the last of six 5Star Preps area teams still standing on Thursday, as Farragut, Alcoa, Grace, Kingston and Cosby bowed out on Wednesday.
Gibbs did itself no favors Tuesday, falling in its opener 10-9 to drop into the loser’s bracket. That put Gibbs in a position to have to win twice Wednesday, twice Thursday and possibly twice Friday to win it all.
Gibbs pulled off the two-game sweep Wednesday, knocking out Munford and Soddy-Daisy.
The Lady Eagles opened Thursday with a 7-3 win over East Hamilton. Dakota Large went 2 for 4 with a home run and two RBIs to pace Gibbs’ offense while teammate Addison Merritt also had a 2-for-4 day with a pair of RBI.
In the nightcap, Lexington methodically built a 3-0 lead through four innings.
Gibbs, though, plated three in the bottom of the fifth to knot the game thanks to a 3-run home run by senior catcher Jordann Reagan.
Large tried to get a rally going in the bottom of the seventh following Duke’s second blast, but her double didn’t ignite a comeback.
Gibbs’ outlook for 2024 again looks promising, as just four seniors depart from the roster.
The Lady Eagles will remain in Class 3A in the new 2023-24 classification cycle from TSSAA and will be a part of District 4-3A with the likes of Anderson County, Clinton, Cumberland Gap, Scott and Union County.