by Don Meador, The Citizen-Times
Any question as to whether the Allen County-Scottsville Patriot fast pitch softball program is among the state’s best was laid to rest this past weekend as the Patriots, for the second consecutive year and third time in six seasons, reached the final day of play in the KHSAA high school softball tournament. Facing one of the tournament’s toughest draws, the Patriots played like champions finishing tied for fifth in the event.
ACS posted a win over Ninth Region Champion Ryle in opening round play Friday morning before dropping a heartbreaking 2-0 decision to eventual state champion Owensboro Catholic in the quarter-finals of the winner’s bracket. In the loser’s bracket of the double elimination tournament, ACS overcame a two-run deficit to upend 12th Region champion South Laurel 5-3. Saturday, the Patriots started the day with a 3-2 win over 16th Region winner Russell before suffering a 4-2 loss to Henderson County, the Second Region winner that finished third in the state.
“It’s no shame to lose to Owensboro Catholic and Henderson County in the state tournament,” Coach Brad Bonds said. “They are both great programs with great traditions.”
The road to Saturday’s final game was a five game stretch that brought the Patriots up against four of the state’s top twelve teams. The roller-coaster ride of emotion started with a 4-1 win over 12th ranked Ryle Friday morning.
The Patriots wasted little time in grabbing a lead. Tasha Witcher led off the game with a single and, after a bobble by the Ryle outfield, the speedy Witcher raced to third base. She scored seconds later as the pitched ball got away from Raider catcher Jenny Weis. Patriot catcher Megan Williams reached on an error. Courtesy runner Whitney Edwards stole second and third and then raced home on a throwing error from Weis.
ACS added two more runs in the sixth inning. Ashley Stovall walked to lead off the inning and came around to score on a single from Emma Napier. ACS first baseman Amber Shrum also scored in the inning to give the Patriots the 4-0 lead.
Ryle ( 29-5) was able to push a run across in the seventh to spoil a scoreless game effort from Patriot hurler Jamie Ogles. The junior tossed a three-hitter, recorded seven strikeouts and kept the Raiders off balance the entire game.
The win set up a showdown with Owensboro Catholic. After a two hour delay due to a pop up thunderstorm, the Lady Aces star pitcher Haleigh Ashworth was too much for ACS to handle, both offensively and defensively.
In the top of the first inning, Ashworth helped her cause with a two out double off Patriot hurler Maleiah Cornwell. Tiffany Mattingly singled two pitches later scoring Ashworth with the first run of the game. Cornwell
Ashworth stepped to the mound and proceeded to keep the Patriots off balance the remainder of the game. ACS finished with two hits----Tasha Witcher’s single to start the game and a Betsy Myers single in the second. The rest of the way, Ashworth pitched a near perfect game, issuing only one walk (Amber Shrum in the fourth.).
“We just didn’t hit,” Bonds explained. “We tried bunts; we tried the slaps (slap bunting. We couldn’t get anything going offensively.”
The Patriots inability to get on base proved costly. Defensively, Cornwell allowed no more hits until the sixth when Catholic added one more run to pad their lead. Yet, ACS’s offensive struggles, due to Ashworth’s excellent game, left the Patriots looking for answers as they headed into the losers bracket.
“That was such an emotional game,” Bonds said. “We knew that if we had gotten that game, we would have been in really good shape.”
In some cases, dropping into the consolation bracket could mean an easy opponent and thus a chance to get back into the groove of things. Such was not the case for ACS. The tournament’s pairing left the Patriots with an elimination game early Saturday evening against a very talented South Laurel squad.
In what one person called, at that point, a battle between the loser’s bracket strongest teams, the game proved to be a classic with ACS needing an impressive seventh inning rally to live to play on Saturday.
Text book short-game softball in the third let to AC-S’s first run of the game. Ashley Oakes singled with two strikes. Tisha Witcher successfully executed a sacrifice bunt moving Oakes to second. After a fly out by Tasha Witcher, junior left hander Ashley Stovall singled, scoring Oakes.
Ninth ranked South Laurel wasted little time in answering the Patriots run. After a throwing error charged to Myers, a passed ball and a fielding error by Shrum, the Lady Cardinals were able to push the tying run across the plate. Singles by Lauren Wombles and Brittany Turner and another passed ball and South Laurel (35-7) had plated three runs to build a 3-1 cushion.
The Patriots answered with a run in the top of the fourth. Williams led off with a double and came around to score on a hit from Myers. Both teams missed scoring chances in the fourth and sixth innings setting the stage for a dynamic seventh inning for ACS.
The inning started with Bonds asking Ogles, pitching but listed as the “FLEX” player, to enter the game as a batter. In an effort to save wear and tear on her healing shoulder, Ogles had not batted in the tournament yet Bonds was confidence that his starting pitcher could step in and make something happen.
“Very conifidence,” Bonds noted. “I knew that if we did not score, she would not pitch again this season so we were going to take our chances.”
The junior responded, ripping the first pitch she saw up the middle for a base hit. After an out, Tasha Witcher singled to keep things alive. Stovall followed with a single, loading the bases for Williams. The junior catcher answered in grand fashion, blasting the ball down the third base line for a double. Ogles and Witcher scored putting the Patriots ahead 4-3. Seconds later, Stovall scored as Shrum doubled. Even though the inning was halted as Whitney Edwards, running for Williams, was tagged out in a close play at the plate and Shrum was caught returning to second, ACS led by two.
Ogles returned to the mound and did the rest. She induced two groundouts, surrounded a single before a line-out to Lindsey Absher ended the game giving ACS the win and the chance to continue play Saturday.
“One of the characteristics of championship teams is resilience,” Bonds said, referring to what he told his ball club after the win. “We showed a lot of resilience. We have done an outstanding job of just not quitting; we showed a lot of heart.”
After a night of rest, the Patriots were back on the diamond Saturday morning facing a long day of essentially one game after another to stay alive. First up with a solid Russell team. ACS approached the game hopeful of jumping on the early.
“We want to score first and we were able to score first “ Bonds explained. “We knew they were a good hitting squad but Jamie pitched a great game. She kept them off balance with her change ups and curve balls. Our defense played extremely well”
Bonds admitted afterwards that he had hoped his team would build a lead thus allowing him the discretion to relieve Ogles on the hill and save her for games later in the day. In the first, it appeared that the game plan might be possible. Tasha Witcher walked to start the game and was sacrificed to second on a Stovall bunt. Williams lined a double scoring Witcher but was tagged out trying to stretch the double into a triple. Shrum followed with a double but Ogles struck out thus ending the threat.
While Ogles was pitching a two hit gem, ACS offense failed to produce any additional runs over the course of the next four innings. Finally, in the sixth, Betsy Myers and Stephanie Edwards scored a pair of insurance runs with sophomore Ashley Oakes electyfying the crowd with a near inside the park home run. The speedy Oakes was called out at the plate.
“We got some runs late in the game that really helped.” Bonds added “They were much needed runs.”
In the top of the seventh, Russell (23-9) showed signs of life against Ogles. A single, just the second of the game for was turned into a run on an error by ACS. Then, a passed ball led to a second run suddenly turning a 3-0 lead into a 3-2 game. However, a ground out to Stephanie Edwards at third ended the game and moved the Patriots into the second game of the day.
Henderson County, ranked second in the state, awaited and by now Bonds realized that Ogles would not be available to face the Lady Colonels.
“Jamie kind of re-injured some things in the Russell game and we had pretty much put her on the self.”
Still, Bonds was very confident that his second, third and fourth pitchers could step up and carry the load.
“We talked all year about how deep our pitching staff was and how confident we were in them at this level.”
Cornwell was called upon to face the Lady Colonels, a team that loaded with excellent hitters. Cornwell allowed a one out double and walk in the first before her teammates helped her out of the jam. Williams gunned down a Lady Colonel runner on an attempted steal of second. Cornwell hit the next batter before the Colonels threat ended on a groundout to Witcher at short.
The Patriots got on the board in the bottom of the first against Lady Colonel ace Stacy Whitmer. Stovall singled and scored after a double by Shrum. Henderson answered in their next at bat. A double by Emily Massith scored Lindsey Weikel and Tiffani Farley and the Colonels had a 2-1 lead.
With Cornwell off to a shaky start, Bonds decided to bring in Cristin Foster in the third, a move in hopes that a change would disrupt the Henderson bats.
“Henderson jumped on Maleigh,” Bonds explained. “They were hitting her really hard so we tried to switch some things up and give them some different speeds, different location spots.”
The plan did not confuse the Colonels as Henderson County made quick adjustments and ripped off four hits in the inning against Foster. Two more runs crossed the plate giving Henderson County the 4-1 lead.
The Patriots answered with a run in the fourth and appeared poised for a huge sixth inning given the fact that Whitmer had been pulled from the game. Back-to-back-to back hits from Napier, Myers, and Stephanie Edwards loaded the bases with one out. Bonds then asked reserve Mirah Logan, one of the team’s better hitters against slower and weaker pitching, to pinch hit. Logan ripped a hard grounder to the Lady Colonels shortstop who quickly turned the smoked ball into an out at second with the second baseman firing on to first for the double play. AC-S threat was over.
“Henderson County is just a great team offensively and they have a solid defense.” Bonds said. “Everything went their way. We had opportunities. We talk to the girls all the time about giving your self opportunities to score and we had several opportunities. We just did not get the timely hits we needed.”
Bonds added that he felt good about the Patriots chances if they had gotten past Henderson.
“We feel like if we had of won that game, we might have been playing in the championship of the loser’s bracket and perhaps in the championship game of the state tournament.”
Henderson County (29-9) defeated Estill County before losing to Catholic in the finals of the consolation bracket. Catholic defeated Ballard twice to take the state title.
The loss marked the end of the careers of ACS seniors Tisha and Tasha Wither, Amber Shrum and Morgan Wheat. During their high school careers. ACS has compiled an impressive 116-42 record including this year’s 34-10 worksheet.
“All four are great leaders, on and off the field.” Bonds noted. “It’s going to be tough to replace those girls but we do have a lot of experience coming back.”
“We feel we are a softball program that year in and year will complete with the state’s best,” Bonds added. “We feel really good about the years to come.”
Bonds also announced that Shrum will be playing for the Kentucky Senior West All-Stars this weekend in Lexington. Stovall, Ogles and Williams will play for the west junior all-stars, a team coached by Bonds. In addition, Monday Shrum and Ogles were selected to the Class 2-A first team all-state with Williams an honorable mention selection for ACS.