Laying on her back in the pitcher’s circle, Clarksville High’s Heather Norris fought for every breath she could inhale. Literally gasping for air after being struck with an asthma attack, each breath was met with a struggling grunt that demonstrated just how difficult the situation was.
Her Lady Wildcats teammates were in the midst of a 0-0 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning against Ravenwood in the Class AAA sectional game at Ravenwood High School, and the leader of the team could do nothing but wait until the effects of her inhaler kicked in.
For 10 minutes Norris lay on the ground, at one point letting out a scream, until her breathing gradually eased. After getting up and walking toward the dugout, she stopped and told her coaches that she wasn’t about to leave her team at that moment. And with the game on the line, Norris delivered one of the most impressive displays of will and determination, pitching ten innings to help the Lady Wildcats capture a 4-1 sectional victory in an instant classic.
“I wasn’t done,” Norris said. “I didn’t want to let that be the last time I was on the field this year. I just tried to collect myself and finish what I started.”
Norris certainly finished the job. Her single in the top of the ninth inning scored the game’s first run as the ball slipped past the third base line for a 1-0 lead. She then faced Ravenwood’s hitters in the bottom half and was one out away from advancing the CHS program to its first state tournament.
But Ravenwood’s Haley Barnett crushed a waist-high fast ball over the left field fence for a solo home run, tying the score 1-1.
“It didn’t matter to me,” Norris said about giving up the shot. “It was just about forgetting that pitch and getting the next out. I don’t really dwell on the last pitch I threw.”
Following that homer, Norris gave up a single, but struck out Autumn Olgetree to get out of the inning as the game entered the 10th and the international tiebreaker rule took effect.
Clarksville quickly pounced on Ravenwood pitcher Raygen Greer in the top of the 10th. The Lady Wildcats had failed to execute three previous bunts that resulted in easy pop outs. But Haley Bearden’s bunt to start the 10th advanced Audreyanne Guthrie from second to third. Rachel Mann then hit a sharp grounder to the pitcher whose underhand throw to first pulled Ravenwood off the bag allowing Guthrie to score for a 2-1 Clarksville lead.
Brooke Knight, Alyssa Reed and Claire Grady all singled as two more runs came across, and Norris would finally shut the door on Ravenwood in the bottom of the 10th to seal the win.
“I was making substitutions,” Clarksville coach Brian Rush said about replacing Norris after her asthma attack. “We had already formulated a plan. I’m calling our other girl out on the field and (Heather) looks at me and goes, ‘Coach, I’m staying in.’ That was a gutty, gritty performance from her.”
Norris had just crushed a ball deep to center field for a double in the top of the eighth. It was Clarksville’s best hit of the game against Greer who kept the Lady Wildcats off balance.
But after CHS failed to capitalize, Norris walked out to the circle to begin the bottom of the eighth.
As Ravenwood’s Susan Huddleston walked to the plate to hit, Norris signaled to the dugout for her inhaler. Clarksville’s coaches scrambled to find it in a baseball bag while teammates tried to keep Norris upright. Norris eventually slumped to the ground gasping for air as the staff rushed her inhaler to her. She lay there for what seemed like an eternity.
“She’s had a couple of these attacks that she hasn’t been able to pitch back from,” Rush said. “This year is the first time she’s been able to pitch right after and that was at the Commando Classic.”
Norris’ ability to rise to the occasion will be one that Clarksville High remembers, Rush said.
Ravenwood managed to get the bat on the ball most of the game against Norris.
The host team was patient at the plate, working counts full and extending outs with a total of five hits while inducing seven walks. Ravenwood loaded the bases three times, including back-to-back innings in the second and third, but could not score.
Clarksville High had the bases full in the first, but failed to create a run. It had three hits through eight innings then unloaded for six hits in the ninth and 10th innings.
Clarksville left fielder Hannah Thompson had two crucial defensive gems.
In the bottom of the fifth she stretched to her right for a line drive off the bat of Ravenwood’s Lauren DuPont to save at least a double. But the defensive play of the game came in the bottom of the sixth when DuPont hit a sharp grounder to shortstop as Ravenwood teammate Demi Patonis rounded third from heading home. The ball skipped through the glove at short, but Thompson charged the ball and gunned down Patonis.