You could call them the Fantastic Four.
The Cornerstone Quartet.
The Fearsome Foursome.
Lebanon High School seniors Morgan Hamm, Abby Compton, Madison Varney and Macie Proffitt don’t have a neat nickname, but they sure wouldn’t mind being referred to as state softball champions again.
They were just ninth-graders in 2016 when Lebanon won a state title and they’ll try to bookend their high school careers with championships. That quest begins for the Pioneers (19-7) on Thursday at 9 a.m. with a semifinal showdown against the Madison County Mountaineers (23-2) at Radford University.
Lebanon won’t have to program the route to the New River Valley into the GPS.
The Pioneers are in the state semifinals for a fourth consecutive year.
“Four straight trips to the state tournament is not something I take lightly,” Hamm said. “It’s both an honor and a privilege. Our small, quaint softball field in Lebanon has grown over the years from a few spectators to a full lawn filled with enthusiastic fans.”
Varney, an outfielder, has noticed some similarities between 2016 and 2019.
“This season has reminded me a lot of my freshman season,” Varney said. “My freshman year we had players quit and we added new players to the roster. This year we had two girls quit and we brought up new girls. … It’s really cool to see how this season has mimicked our freshman season.”
That 2016 journey ended with a 2-1, 16-inning victory over Central-Woodstock in the state finals as senior Taylor Woodlief hit a walk-off home run and Hamm was the winning pitcher.
“I remember it was super hot and both teams kept going back and forth,” Varney said. “I remember running out of the dugout as soon as Taylor hit it and how excited our fans and community were.”
Winning a state championship game in 16 innings would prepare players for just about anything.
“Handling pressure situations and having success in big games has definitely helped our team and made us better,” said Lebanon head coach Dennis Price, who was an assistant coach to Shelia Adams on that ‘16 squad. “The girls know it is part of it. The girls just go with it and do their best.”
Lebanon has played a challenging schedule and that’s helped.
The Pioneers have won three of the five matchups with Southwest District rival and fellow state semifinalist Richlands.
They split two games with Sullivan East, a Northeast Tennessee squad that made the TSSAA sub-state round in Class AA.
“We have purposely played some of the better teams around us to get us ready for this exact moment,” Hamm said. “We traveled to Myrtle Beach [for a tournament] where we requested to play only 5A or larger schools. We knew the experience would prove to be invaluable.”
Hamm (8-4) and sophomore Adrienne Morrison (11-3) have split the pitching duties for Lebanon this season and Morrison crafted shutouts against Gate City, Union and Richlands in the Region 2D tournament.
“Adrienne and I have a mutual respect for each other,” Hamm said. “She is actually one of my closest friends. I have softball to thank for that friendship and the last three years for bringing us so close to one another.”
In a 1-0 win over Richlands in the finals of the Region 2D tourney, Hamm homered and Morrison spun a shutout.
“Morgan has been an outstanding player for us – whether it be [in the circle], at first base or at the plate, she has done a great job,” Price said. “She’s a winner, has a great attitude, always puts the team first and always tries to do her best to help the team win. In our program we like to use two pitchers if possible and Morgan has always been supportive of that process.”
Even though she’s a varsity veteran, Hamm and her fellow seniors still get the big-game jitters.
“We wouldn’t be human if we said we were never nervous,” Hamm said. “However, that feeling is what drives you to compete. You just go out there and give 110 percent and leave nothing on the field. But on the other hand of being nervous, we played better when we are having fun and the nerves aren’t there as much.”
Hamm has signed with Carson-Newman University and will write the next chapter of her softball story at the NCAA Division II school in Jefferson City, Tennessee. However, she’s looking to have more fun in a Lebanon uniform this week.
“It’s very hard to believe this is my final year,” Hamm said. “I am going to just enjoy every minute of it and when it’s over thank God for the opportunities and accomplishments he has blessed me with. It’s been an amazing ride.”
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