Lakeside High School's Kaylee Hutchins made her prep softball debut Tuesday, and the freshman summed up the experience in one word.
"Horrible," she said of her emotions during the pressure-packed appearance on the mound in Lakeside's season opener at Evans High School.
Hutchins delivered four innings of no-hit ball, and Lakeside sophomore Jori McMurtrey came on in relief and helped seal Lakeside's 1-0 victory.
McMurtrey could have started the game, but was still getting over a strep throat, so Lakeside coach Jay Matthews turned to the newcomer.
"I was so nervous, I didn't sleep, I didn't eat. I still am nervous," Hutchins said. "The butterflies won't be gone for a while."
Lakeside pitcher Kaylee Hutchins tags Evans runner Maddy Crawford out at home.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Lady Knights might also be suffering from a case of nerves. Evans opened its season last weekend at the South Gwinnett Tournament, and although the team played well against tough competition, the Lady Knights lost three games by 1-0 scores.
The fourth shutout didn't sit well with coach Colette Cassedy. After the loss to Lakeside, she gave her team a lengthy post-game speech.
"They just didn't seem to have much enthusiasm today," Cassedy said. "We're having a little bit slower start this year. Hopefully we'll come around."
Matthews, meanwhile, thinks the turnaround has already begun for Lakeside. The Lady Panthers have qualified for the state tournament every season since going to fast-pitch in 1997, but Matthews expects more this season.
"Lakeside softball used to have an aura, but last year we lost to some teams we've never lost to," he said. "I've challenged this group this year. We want to get that mystique back."
Tuesday was a step in the right direction.
Lakeside leadoff hitter Sam Wannamaker drew a walk to open the game, and after a sacrifice bunt by McMurtrey, senior Jamie Lake singled to drive in the game's only run.
Evans managed to put the ball in play, but Lakeside's defense preserved the win.
In the bottom of the second, Evans had runners on second and third, but Lakeside third baseman Lauren Seaborn handled a hot shot for the second out of the inning, and Lakeside catcher Hillary Hall chased down a lose ball and nailed pinch-runner Maddy Crawford at home plate to snuff the rally.
The Lady Knights loaded the bases in the fourth. Bekah Gibbs flied out to Lake at shortstop to end the threat.
Lady Panther seniors Lake, M.J. Trahan and Ansley Evans are proven team leaders, but Matthews is encouraged by how his younger players responded last week against their local rival.
"We start five freshmen and sophomores, and they don't even know what a Lakeside-Evans rivalry is," Matthews said. "That's why I thought this would be a good game to start with, to throw them right into the fire. Even though its not a region game, this is something we take pride in."
Pride wasn't enough to calm the underclassmen's jitters, but for Hutchins, it was enough to fuel desire.
"I wanted to win so bad, because this was Evans, one of our biggest rivals," Hutchins said. "Some of the seniors from last year are friends of mine, and they said how important the Evans game was. They never beat them before, but we did today."
Evans came back to beat Harlem High School 7-0 on Wednesday. The Lady Knights are expected to challenge for the Region 7-AAAAA title this season. The key will be the pitching of Meredith Weare and Cayla Hale, as well as the play of veterans Gibbs, Sheena Blackwell and Ashley Brodhecker.
"We still have some fine-tuning to do," Cassedy said. "Most of it is their approach. I don't think they all know what their roles are right now. It's always tough losing to a rival, but our main goal is dealing with our region."
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