The 10- and 11-year-old All-Stars became the first LaFollette team in that age group to qualify for the Tennessee Little League Softball Tournament when they recently traveled to Jonesborough for state play.
Jason Rutherford, who coached most of the girls on the LaFollette Skittles team during the regular season, said the trip was an eye-opening experience for his players.
After playing most of the summer against 9- and 10-year-olds, the LaFollette All-Stars had to move up a division in the tournament because they had a couple of older girls on their team.
“Basically, we were 10-and-under except for two kids,” said Rutherford.
“But those two kids were two of the most dedicated on the team, so it would not have been fair to them to leave them at home.”
Competing in an older age bracket also required LaFollette to play by a different set of rules. Instead of pitching an 11-inch ball from 35 feet away, the LaFollette team was forced to pitch a 12-inch ball from a distance of 40 feet.
“It was a big change,” said Rutherford.
“I’m not sure we were ready for it.”
The LaFollette All-Stars represented District 6 at the state tournament. As one of only three teams in its division, LaFollette faced District 4 Champion Morristown right off the bat.
Morristown won the opener and advanced to play District 5 Champion Daniel Boone. LaFollette faced the loser, which turned out to be Morristown, in an elimination game.
Morristown then sent LaFollette home for the season.
The state winner qualified to compete for a national title.
“We competed, especially in that second game,” said Rutherford.
LaFollette had the only 10- and 11-year-old team in District 6 this year and played .500 ball against teams from Scott County. Tazewell and Williamsburg, Ky.
“During the season, it seems like we competed better against 11- and 12-year-old teams. It seems like the girls were challenged more,” said Rutherford.
Members of the LaFollette 10 and 11 Softball All-Stars Team include: Bailey Rutherford, Gracie Hatmaker, Carlie Baldwin, Jalah Nelson, Madison Myers, Emily Sanders, Lexie Richardson, Shae Bolton, McKayla Ivey and Summer Ivey.