Any injury to a senior is a tough one to swallow, and Beech High’s softball team lost a key veteran before the season even began.
A knee injury sidelined Ashley Graves, initially keeping her out of action for 8-10 weeks.The Lady Buccaneers have been without Graves nearly all season, but they are beginning to ease their most experienced pitcher back into the lineup as the District 9-AAA Tournament approaches.
“I was hitting at practice, and we were scrimmaging each other,” Graves said. “I took a weird swing. My kneecap just popped out of place, and it tore a bunch of ligaments.”
Graves indicated that she is around 80 percent after the Lady Bucs’ 4-0 victory over Hendersonville on Tuesday, in which fellow senior Abbie Vaughn tossed a one-hit shutout.
“I cannot be more proud of a kid than I am of (Vaughn),” Beech coach Monica Braswell said. “She just needed her moment and the opportunity. When Ashley got hurt, she stepped up, and she’s been phenomenal.”
Vaughn (8-7) has shouldered more of the workload in Graves’ absence, but younger pitchers have also contributed. Beech has utilized six different pitchers at various points this season, helping the Lady Bucs remain atop the 9-AAA standings with two games remaining in district play.
Sophomores Mackenzie Williams and Kennedy McCurry, along with freshmen Carly Sperlich and Jessica Arrington, have all contributed in the pitcher’s circle during Graves’ absence.
“I am so proud of them,” Graves said. “I’m like a mom to them. They’ve stepped up when I’ve needed them to, so I’m very proud of them.”
Both McCurry and Sperlich have four wins, while Williams has three saves to go along with her two victories.
With Graves working her way back into the rotation, it gives the Lady Bucs two experienced hurlers to go into postseason play. Graves’ first lengthy appearance this year came when she pitched all six innings of a 2-2 tie against Vestavia Hills (Ala.) in a tournament at Hoover, Ala., on April 22.
She had shorter stints since then, until she pitched all 10 innings of the Lady Bucs’ 4-3 victory over visiting Mt. Juliet on Thursday evening. Graves struck out seven batters while only walking two, and she allowed seven hits in the 126-pitch performance, claiming her first victory this season.
Graves also pitched briefly in Tuesday’s junior-varsity game against Hendersonville, another step in her rehabilitation. However, it was also an opportunity for the Lady Commandos to scout Graves in case they have to face her in order to move on in the postseason.
“She’s a great competitor, and she gets after it,” Hendersonville coach Jeff Serbin said. “I think anybody would love to have her in that situation, but you’ve got to be careful how you bring her back.”
That’s exactly how Braswell wants to approach Graves’ return — with caution. However, Thursday’s outing indicates that Graves might just be ready a little sooner than expected.
“The plan is to have her 100 percent and effective once the district tournament gets here,” Braswell said.
Reach Chris Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter @CB_SumnerSports.