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Henry Countians get a jump start to fastpitch

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By Tommie Kendall

The Henry County Purple Thunder, playing in the Shelby County Parks and Recreation Girls 6-8 Fastpitch League, celebrated enough feel-good moments this past season to keep them smiling for days. They were a perfect 13-0, won the regular-season championship, claimed the tournament title, crossed home plate 239 times, held opponents to just 37 runs and, hopefully, jump started a softball career that might one day land them a spot on the high schools roster.

After winning two games last summer, the team rebounded this year in a complete turnaround to become the best team in the league, which included four teams from Shelby County, two teams from Spencer County and two from Henry.

This was a great group of girls to coach, Larry Tuggle said after his first year coaching the squad. They are very athletic and easy to coach. They will definitely be tough down the road.

The Thunder played 10 games during the regular season, then three in a single-elimination tournament, ending with the championship last Thursday night. They won the opening round 26-0, the semifinals 19-2 and the finals 6-4.

The finals turned into the Thunders closest game of the season as they went back and forth with a team from Shelby until they took the lead for good during the sixth inning. Shelby was in front 2-0 early in the contest and Henry went ahead 4-2 during a big second-inning bat before an hour rain delay put the game on hold. After the break from action, the Thunder scored two game-deciding runs in the sixth to pull out the win and leave them perfect for the season.

The Thunder could hit the ball, as seen in their 18.4 runs-per-game average, but their strength was on the defensive side of the ball. They committed just a couple of errors each game, some games had zero errors, and made the consistent routine plays seen by players much older.

This stage its all about teaching the girls the fundamentals, Tuggle said of his team, which includes players as young as T-ball age. But for most of these girls, after a few practices they were in a good routine and they knew what had to be done. They played very well defensively, and surprised a few people at how well theyve done.

Henry practiced every Wednesday and most Saturdays, Tuggle said. They played games on Monday and Thursday nights. Ten players were on the field at a time, which included a first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, catcher, right fielder, right-center fielder, left-center fielder, left fielder and pitcher. At this level, the coaches pitched to the players using a fastpitch-arm motion, but the pitcher fielded her position if the ball was hit her way. As for the outfielders, they played either a few feet in the grass or on the outside of the dirt. Games were six innings, or one and a half hours long.

The next step up for these players is the 9-10 league, which Henry County has at Harry Hill Park. During those games, the players actually pitch to the batters.

Im hoping I get to coach them at the next level, Tuggle said. It was a fun year to be a part of.

E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.