They only have two seniors on their roster and the star pitcher is an eighth-grader.
It sounds like an unlikely formula for success, but Brentwood Academy’s softball team is only two wins from a return trip to the state tournament.
Brentwood Academy (19-5) hosts Chattanooga Christian (12-12) in a Division II-AA quarterfinal best-of-three series that begins Thursday.
The Lady Eagles won the Middle Region with a 12-0 record and the Lady Chargers took third in the East.
Both teams are young. BA has only two seniors and one junior on its roster.
Five of the Lady Eagles’ position players are sophomores, freshmen or eighth-graders.
Chattanooga Christian starts an average of three to four eighth-graders per game.
“Our expectations are always high,” BA coach Greg Brown said. “I would say we were always cautiously optimistic.”
The Lady Eagles are hoping for a return to the state tournament after taking fourth in 2019. BA finished third in 2018.
Eighth-grader Anna Groenewoud is 18-4 with a 2.65 earned run average, 133 strikeouts in 103 innings and nine shutouts.
“She spins the ball really well,” Brown said. “In today’s softball world, you have power pitchers and what I would call finesse pitchers who spin the ball well. She has good speed, but she’s not going to blow it past you with speed.”
Groenewoud locates the ball well and plays on a high-level travel team in the summer.
“The dropball is my best pitch and the riseball is my strikeout pitch,” Groenewoud said. “(The spin) tricks (batters). They just don’t know where it’s going.”
Her mother, Heather, played catcher, first base and outfield at Overton and Ole Miss.
Seniors Caroline Clemmer (team-high .544 batting average, 29 RBIs) and Felicity Chandler (.388) lead the youthful Lady Eagles.
“All our girls are really athletic,” said Clemmer, a shortstop who might walk on at Mississippi State.
Chandler, a center fielder, signed with Trevecca in soccer as a goalie.
Freshman left fielder Skye Carter (.453, 20 RBIs), freshman third baseman Ava Dumont (.368, 29 RBIs) and sophomore right fielder Ella Dumont (.368, 16 RBIs) are putting up good numbers for BA.
The Dumonts’ dad, JP, played right wing for the Predators from 2006-11 at the end of his NHL career.
“Our mantra on what we charge them with each day is to try to get 1% better and they’ve done that,” Brown said. “They have an incredible work ethic.”
BA’s season was canceled after two games last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The biggest difference for us (this season): our athletes do wear neck gators,” Brown said. “They are just a little easier for the girls to wear than having something hooked around their ears.”
The lost season of 2020 made Brown appreciate softball more this year.
“You don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s not there,” Brown said.
Chattanooga Christian’s .500 record might be misleading considering it plays in a traditionally strong softball area.
“Chattanooga is pretty stout, in my opinion, in softball,” Lady Chargers coach Lisa Gray said. “We go to a lot of tournaments where we see quite a bit of good teams.”
Chattanooga Christian finished second in DII-A in 2019 and fourth the previous season.
“This is our sixth year back in competition,” Gray said. “They closed the program for two years before I got there. They had low numbers in the high school.”
Three Lady Chargers have signed with colleges: center fielder Savannah Ricketts (East Tennessee State), shortstop Madison Vandergriff (Carson-Newman) and third baseman Lauren Kay (Covenant).
“One through nine, our whole team, has just done well,” said Gray, a former Carson-Newman first baseman. “We’ve had some injuries pop up throughout the year and people have had to fill in.”
Her husband, Thomas, is the pitching coach for Georgia’s top-ranked Class A public school team, Gordon Lee (33-5).
Baylor (21-1), which faces Briarcrest in the quarterfinals, is probably the favorite.
The Lady Red Raiders have won 13 state titles, including five straight and eight of the last nine championships.
Brown is a 1983 Baylor graduate who went to school there when it was an all-boys school.