It’s as if first-year LaRue County coach Aaron Howell was serenading his Lady Hawks with the sweet words of … Jim Valvano?
After his team rallied for an extra-inning win in Monday’s quarterfinals, the Lady Hawks put on their rally caps again, fighting back from a huge hole in the first inning to stun the North Hardin Trojans, 7-6 in 10 innings Tuesday in the late 5th Region Softball Tournament semifinal in Hodgenville.
“You can never give up until the last out and that’s what we did,” said Howell, who was an assistant at North Hardin before his getting first head coaching job at LaRue County. “We didn’t give up at all.”
Not after falling behind 4-0 in the first inning against a program that was previously 10-0 in region semifinals and had beaten it in a scrimmage.
Not after walking the bases loaded with one out in the sixth.
Not after giving up a single to the outfield with a runner on second in the bottom of the eighth.
And not after striking out 16 times against North Hardin senior Andrea Whelan, who became only the fifth player in KHSAA history to record 400 strikeouts in a season.
“It was hard to come back, but we did. We knew we couldn’t give up,” said LaRue County junior starting pitcher Brittany Enlow, who earned the win in relief and also scored the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th.
North Hardin appeared to have won it in the eighth inning as eighth-grade catcher Bailey Blair reached base on a one-out fielder’s choice and her courtesy runner, Stephanie Thomas, was sacrificed to second by freshman shortstop Ashley Vasquez. Whelan then drew the second of her three consecutive walks before previously hitless sixth-grade third baseman Aubree Muse – who didn’t finish the game as she sprained her thumb catching a runner stealing to end the top of the ninth – singled.
Thomas tried to score from second, but senior right fielder Cassady Crim threw to senior catcher Ellen Huff, who blocked the plate and tagged out Thomas.
“Give her a lot of credit. She made a perfect throw,” said North Hardin coach Donnie Baker. “Without that, the game’s over and we’re on to play for the region championship.”
Unfortunately for Baker, Howell said Crim, who was 1-for-6 with four strikeouts, had other plans.
“Cassady made one of the best plays I’ve ever seen in the outfield,” Howell said. “She threw a strike to Ellen. She knew she was having a rough day at the plate, but she didn’t let it affect her in the field.”
Nearly everything affected North Hardin in the field. The youthful Trojans committed a season-worst eight errors and all six members of the infield made one each with the exception of Whelan, who balked in the go-ahead run in the 10th on her only illegal pitch in more than 1,000 pitches this year.
LaRue County didn’t score an earned run until the 10th.
“Their age showed when we made all of those errors,” said Baker, who starts three middle-schoolers. “We played like our age in the field.”
North Hardin ends the year with an 18-18 record, but Baker said this season was far from a failure thanks to Whelan’s performance.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow when your team makes error after error on just routine plays and let me tell you, she swallowed that pill a lot for us this season,” Baker said. “A lot of people wouldn’t have thought we would have made it this far with this young of a team, but Andi’s a leader and a workhorse.”
LaRue County (14-21) will see if it as any gas left in the tank as it faces 11th-ranked Central Hardin (33-4) for the title at 7 tonight. Central Hardin is 16-0 against region foes this year and that mark includes a 9-1 rout of the Lady Hawks on May 13.
“We feel that we can compete with any team in the region,” said LaRue County freshman center fielder Peyton Gardner, who went 2-for-5 with one RBI. “I think we’ve shown that the last two nights.”
LARUECOUNTY 7, NORTH HARDIN 6
R H E
LaRue 000 230 000 2 7 9 2
North 400 000 100 1 6 8 8
Brittany Enlow, Brigitte Skaggs (2), Enlow (6) and Ellen Huff. Andrea Whelan and Bailey Blair. WP: Enlow. LP: Whelan. 2B: Jessica Jenkins (NH), Tristan Cruise (LC).