With the season on the line, trailing by five runs and down to their final two outs, Summit freshman Anne Marie Richards stepped into the box and drilled the first pitch she saw over the left field fence, cutting the lead to four.

Her home run sparked a furious rally from her teammates and the Spartan women plated an additional five runs with no outs to spare in the game, including one on a throwing error to home plate and the final two on a Lakyn Canada single to win 9-8 over Columbia Central.

The loss ended the Lady Lions’ season a game short of a region tournament berth.

Richards’ home run earned a win in the circle for her senior sister, Lily Kate, who threw 4.1 interrupted innings in the game.

“I really feel like (Anne Marie) was doing it for her senior sister,” Summit coach Jenny Stevenson said. “She hit the bomb, and right then it was like – we’re not done; we’re doing this right now. That’s being a great teammate.”

The 2022 District 12-4A Pitcher of the Year was not incredibly effective early in the game and was removed from the game in the third inning in favor of freshman Brody Stephenson.

“Lily Kate did not have a great night, and she has pitched phenomenal for us this year; she’s carried us,” Stevenson said. “A lot of times her pitching has saved our defense, it’s saved our hitting, and I was so bummed that our bats weren’t doing their job to pick her up.”

After being taken out, Stephenson threw 2.2 innings, giving up no earned runs on three hits. She pitched just once against a district opponent during the season – a 6-0 win over Columbia Central – while Lily Kate Richards was out of town.

If it was going to be her final high school game, however, the senior wanted to be in the circle. Lily Kate Richards immediately left the field and went to the bullpen, where she corrected her mechanics and then asked to be put back into the game in the sixth inning.

“Senior pitcher – if she wants the ball, I’m giving her the ball. I’m so proud because a younger player may have melted down or been sad, but she went to the bullpen and got right,” Stevenson said.

She gave up no earned runs in her final two innings in the circle.

For Columbia Central’s Jon McDonald, depth at the position didn’t afford him the ability to go to another pitcher when starter Bailey Lovell loaded the bases in the seventh. Even if he’d had someone else ready, the first-year coach wanted to ride the hot hand as long as he could.

Unfortunately, playing their fifth game in three days – partially due to an unusual bracket drawing – his pitcher ran out of gas in the final frame.

“We rode Bailey, and we were going to make a change, but I trusted her and I wanted her to finish. She just didn’t have anything left,” he said. “I’ll be second-guessing myself all night.”

To that point, Lovell went 6.2 innings and gave up just five earned runs, but the final inning saw a snowball effect McDonald has seen plenty of times before.

“When something bad happens, we seem to hang our heads and let it get to us,” he said. “We have a young group, and sometimes that’s just how they react.”

Conversely, while things were going well at the plate, it spread to everyone on the team with seven Lions getting hits in the game and five of those driving in runs. Lovell led the way with three RBI on two hits in the game, while Saviya Morgan added two hits as well and two runs scored with three stolen bases.

“I know we can hit with anybody, but our confidence isn’t quite there,” McDonald said. “Everybody says hitting is contagious and everybody was having fun. When you hit the pitcher of the year like that, we were able to get going early.

“They have a great team, and they’ve been there before. They know who we are now.”

For Summit, their quest to return to Murfreesboro after a third-place finish last season continues on Friday with the district tournament championship on the line against Nolensville. Both teams in the finals will advance to the regional tournament set for next week.

Chris Yow has served as the managing editor for the Trussville (Ala.) Tribune and, most recently, the Spring Hill Advertiser News. He has worked as a sports editor and has covered high school sports in different capacities for 18 years.

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