WARNER ROBINS -- A gentle breeze blew through the covered grandstand at Little League Southeast Park midway through the third inning Saturday.
It could’ve been Mother Nature interrupting the stagnant heat. Or perhaps it was acting Tennessee manager Charlie Padgett and the rest of the visitors’ dugout collectively letting out a sigh of relief.
Tennessee finally broke out of its offensive slump, erupting for six runs in the third, and held on to defeat South Carolina 6-1 for its first Pool A victory of the Little League Softball Southeastern Regional Tournament.
“We’re a lot better team than we’ve shown this week,” said Padgett, who was thrust into the managerial role after Travis Griffith and assistant coach Wayne Edwards were suspended for the game for not getting a player an at-bat against West Virginia on Friday.
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Tennessee (1-2) entered the game having been outscored 22-2 in its previous two games. South Carolina (0-3) had been outscored 39-5. Something had to give.
“We’re usually a really good hitting team,” Padgett said. “I don’t know if we’ve been awe of the atmosphere surrounding the tournament or what. But (on Saturday), we showed a little life.”
For the first two innings, it was more of the same from the first two games. Tennessee stranded runners on second and third in the first and another at second in the second. In the third, however, Tennessee finally converted.
Rylee Stiltner led off with a single and promptly stole second base. Halie Padgett’s single down the third-base line scored Stiltner. Padgett also stole second before being driven in by Hannah Bowen’s hit.
Bowen moved to third on passed balls before Grace Clark reached on a walk. Tanya Chavez’s double to deep center field plated Bowen and Clark for a four-run lead. Jaimie Edwards then reached on an error. Another passed ball and errant throw that sailed into left field allowed Chavez and Edwards to score and give Tennessee a 6-0 lead.
“I just thought, ‘Well, finally,’” said Stiltner, who went 3-for-4. “I think we were more confident after scoring that first run.”
Tennessee finished with 11 hits, including two by Bowen.
Conversely, South Carolina continued to struggle at the plate. It managed merely one hit through four innings and finished with just two for the game. The team scored in the fifth inning when Jeana Reynold’s ground out drove in Caitlyn Walker.
“I don’t want to focus on the negatives,” South Carolina manager Diane Tyler-Baylor said. “We are not a travel ball team. None of our players have ever been to a regional, but we have come and competed. I feel like we have walked off this field winners every day.”
Padgett, the starting pitcher, picked up the win for Tennessee by striking out seven and walking a batter in three innings of work. Kylee Wolfe came on in relief and struck out four.
Brandy Gause picked up the loss for South Carolina.