ALCOA — Julia Butts has swung the bat a lot during her four years as a Scott High softball player.
But, arguably, none of those swings were as important as one in the top of the seventh inning of the Lady Highlanders’ District 4-AA tournament game here Wednesday, which saw Scott stun arch-rival Kingston, 18-15, in an elimination game.
Trailing by one and down to their final two outs, Scott High had loaded the bases against Kingston.
Kingston’s coach had just told his outfield to move up. “We haven’t been burned by a deep ball all night,” he said. And he was right.
But on a 1-1 pitch, Butts cranked one to near the wall in deep right field, just over the outstretched glove of the retreating Kingston outfielder, scoring three runs and giving the Lady Highlanders the lead.
Moments later, Butts scored herself on a wild pitch, giving the Lady Highlanders an 18-15 lead.
It was a pivotal moment in a marathon game, one that stretched nearly three hours and deep into the night, ending just before 11 p.m.
That Butts, who finished with four RBIs and scored four runs in a 4 of 5 batting effort, was the hero of the game was no surprise. Before the game started, she had been revealed as one of two all-district selections from Scott High — along with sophomore Annalyne Woodward. In the process, Butts became the first athlete from Scott High in several years to be named all-district in three different sports. She was also all-district in soccer and basketball in her senior season.
Earlier in the game, Butts had tried to turn a base hit into a double and was tagged out at second. She was frustrated with herself.
“There are two types of players in that situation,” her father, Jack Butts, said after the game. “Those who let it cause them to hang their head, and those who say ‘Give me another chance.'”
Butts, who is a competitor from a family of competitors, wanted another chance. She got it in the top of the seventh, and it proved to be the difference.
Minutes later, her younger sister, Katelyn Butts, snagged a pop-up from her second base position, securing the upset win for the Lady Highlanders.
It was an outcome that few people in Alcoa expected. In fact, when a member of the Tornadoes’ staff wished the Lady Highlanders luck before the first pitch, saying “I want to see you guys here tomorrow,” it might have been easy to dismiss it as an empty gesture. Kingston had twice shut out Scott High in the regular season. In fact, Scott High didn’t even get a hit in either of those games; Kingston twice no-hit the Lady Highlanders.
But then, in Wednesday’s game, the Lady Highlanders turned in the highest run total in this District 4-AA tournament so far.
It was a weird game that saw the Lady Highlanders surge to a 14-4 lead with 6-run innings in both the fourth and the fifth. That put them on the brink of victory, but Kingston surged back to reclaim the lead at 15-14 in just two innings.
Kingston battled pitching troubles throughout the night. In fact, Scott High finished with more bases on balls than hits: 18 batters walked in all. But the bats were there when the Lady Highlanders needed them to be; they finished with a season-high 15 hits, making the regular season games at Kingston seem like a distant memory.
And Julia Butts wasn’t the only story of the game. Junior Alaina Duncan also had a big game, finishing 3 of 4 at the plate with three RBIs. Other players who had multiple RBIs included Riley Price, Kloey Sexton and Macey King. Kaitlynn Butts, Zoey Price and Makayla Higginbotham had RBIs, as well. Scoring multiple runs were the Butts sisters, Sexton, Higginbotham, King and Kaitlynn Henson. Also scoring runs were Woodward, Price and Rachel Garrett.
The Lady Highlanders’ win was even more incredible considering the fact that they were short-handed. They finished without two of their top players. Catcher Savannah Russ was unable to make the trip to Alcoa due to work obligations, and Woodward — who normally plays third base but shifted to first for Wednesday’s game — left with a back injury early in the third inning and was unable to return. Throw in Madison Newport, who is out with an ACL injury, and three of Scott’s regular nine players were out of the lineup.
But among the players stepping up was freshman Zoey Price, who replaced Woodward at first base and played error-free baseball in the field.
As the runs mounted and Kingston switched pitchers to no avail, the Lady Highlanders appeared to be on the verge of winning the game prematurely. High school softball rules see games called if one team has a lead of at least 10 runs after five innings.
But Kingston began to battle back in the bottom of the fifth, scoring four runs to carve into the lead and keep its hopes alive. The Yellow Jackets had six hits in the fifth inning alone.
“I have a feeling this game isn’t over,” the first base umpire commented. “Kingston just got back to the top of its batting order.”
Indeed, the Yellow Jackets cranked up the offensive output another notch in the sixth inning. The Lady Highlanders committed a sea of errors, frustrating head coach Jake Wright, who could only watch as Kingston roared all the way back to claim the lead before Scott was finally able to get out of the inning with a tag at third.
Suddenly, Scott had gone from the verge of a run-rule victory to the verge of defeat, an almost unheard-of turn of events in high school softball.
But Sexton led off the seventh inning with a base hit, then Higginbotham earned a base on balls. After Kingston recorded the first out of the inning, Katelynn Henson walked to load the bases, giving the Lady Highlanders the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Two pitches later, Butts tripled on the fly ball to deep right, before scoring on a wild pitch during her sister’s at-bat.
During Kingston’s seventh, the Yellow Jackets quickly got into trouble on a fly-out to Butts in center field and a ground-out to Sexton at short. But then the Yellow Jackets turned in a single and a double in back-to-back at-bats, and the tying run was suddenly at the plate. But Kaitlynn Butts secured the pop-up for the final third out, and the Lady Highlanders advanced to face Fulton in an elimination game on Thursday.
First pitch of Thursday’s game is set for 4:30 p.m. at Alcoa.