DISTRICT SOFTBALL: Lady Hawks are district runners-up

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By Josh Claywell, Landmark News Service

The LaRue County Lady Hawks’ backs were against the wall.

Top-seeded Green County pushed across two runs and had loaded the bases against junior starting pitcher Emillee Cundiff, slicing LaRue County’s four-run lead to two in the bottom of the seventh inning, so Lady Hawks coach Aaron Howell called on senior Brigitte Skaggs to close it out.

Green County, however, drew two bases-loaded walks off Skaggs to rally for an 8-7 win Tuesday in the 18th District Softball Tournament final against the second-seeded Lady Hawks at Green County American Legion Park.

“We were up and we were vibrant and feeling really good,” Howell said. “But that last inning changed everything. I don’t know if we were uptight or what, but this one’s on me. It’s on me. When you’re up four runs and you lose it, there’s got to be a reason and I’m the reason.”

In a matter of about 30 minutes, the Lady Hawks (16-15) went from feeling euphoric to downright glum.

They had just turned a 5-3 game into a four-run cushion in the seventh as senior Peyton Gardner smoked a line-drive double to center to score sophomore Shakeya Washington and senior Courtney Gardner lifted a sacrifice fly to left to drive in Gardner.

“Before the game, (Howell) was just telling us to be confident in ourselves,” Gardner said. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point. We hit really well tonight; we just didn’t finish it in the end.”

That’s because things snowballed on LaRue County in the bottom of the seventh.

Green County senior Brianna Scott reached on an error, senior Kayla Bale doubled to right-center and freshman Tylar Corbin’s single found a hole to drive them in and cut LaRue County’s lead to 7-5.

Freshman Arizona Vaughn reached on another error and senior Hayley Slone’s bunt single re-loaded the bases. That’s when Howell moved Skaggs from first to the circle to try and finish it off.

“I was just thinking I had to hit my spots and do the best that I could do,” said Skaggs, who went the distance in Monday’s semifinal against Hart County. “I thought I could get out of it. I’ve worked hard all these years. I can’t get it in my mind that one walk is going to change a whole game, but you can’t just let it compound on itself like I did mentally.”

Skaggs got ahead 1-2 in the count against sophomore Majestee Hughes, but Hughes lined the sixth pitch of the at-bat back up the middle to drive in Corbin and pull Green County within 7-6.

Even then, Skaggs believed the Lady Hawks had the game in the bag. But eighth-grader Ivy Hedgespeth walked on four pitches to tie it. After striking out Green County eighth-grader Hannah Judd, junior Mony Matney drew a four-pitch walk to drive in the winning run.

“I was extremely confident in Brigitte,” Howell said. “I was confident she’d get the job done, and if the situation were to present itself again, I’d do the same thing again. She’s a senior and she’s a go-getter. It just wasn’t in the cards.”

It appeared to be heading that way early on.

The Lady Hawks broke through against Matney in the third as Washington walked, moved to second on a sacrifice and scored on a frozen-rope double by junior Sierra Mullins.

Cundiff worked out of trouble in the third and fourth. The Lady Dragons had two runners on with one out in the third, but Cundiff induced two fielder’s choices to get out of it. In the fourth, Green County had runners on first and second with two outs, but Cundiff ended that jam with a strikeout.

LaRue County got to Matney again in the fifth. Sophomore Jill Hughes singled and sophomore Delany Eastridge singled after falling behind in the count 0-2. Washington moved them up with a sacrifice bunt, and then Gardner crushed a pitch over the fence in right for her second homer in as many games for a 4-0 lead. Three batters later, Skaggs purposefully got caught in a rundown between first and second, which allowed Johnson to score from third to make it 5-0.

“Peyton’s homer was a real big game-changer,” Skaggs said. “After that point, I think we felt like we could have had the game in the bag if we wanted it. Because they beat us twice, we were fighting the whole game. But that made us push more and work even harder and trying to defend our title.”

Green County’s bats came to life in the bottom of the fifth. Scott smacked a two-run double to left-center and Corbin singled to drive in Scott to trim the lead to 5-3.

The Lady Hawks, though, thought the championship was theirs after scoring twice in the seventh — but it wasn’t meant to be.

“We try to stay confident in ourselves every game,” said Johnson, who was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Gardner and Skaggs. “We knew it was going to be a tough one, but we knew that if we worked hard enough, it was possible for us to win.”

While the loss certainly stings, Howell said his team will regroup and get ready for next week’s 5th Region Softball Tournament at Hart County.

“We were very confident we could win this game,” Howell said. “We had them. We were up 7-3 last inning, but it’s never over. And hopefully we learned a lesson on that going into next week. We’ll regroup, give them tomorrow off, practice Thursday and practice this weekend. We’ll be ready Monday.”

                                                    R    H    E
LaRue County    001    040    2    7    8    3
Green County    000    030    5    8    10    2
Emillee Cundiff, Brigitte Skaggs (7) and Sierra Mullins. Mony Matney and Kayla Bale. WP: Matney. LP: Cundiff. 2B: Mullins (LC), Peyton Gardner (LC), Brianna Scott (GC), Bale (GC). HR: Gardner (LC).