OKOLONA – The defense was nearly perfect. The pitching was stellar.
Unfortunately for the Bullitt Central Lady Cougars on Tuesday in the championship game of the 24th District Softball Tournament, the bats were left somewhere out in the cold.
Bullitt Central had very little offense for the big game. Still, it took nine innings before the Southern Lady Trojans scored a run to pull out a 2-1 victory.
During the regular season, Bullitt Central had won a 1-0 decision over the Lady Trojans in Shepherdsville. The day before, in the tournament semi-finals, Southern had pulled out a 2-1 victory over North Bullitt.
Coming into this game, the Lady Cougars had a 7-0 record this season in one-run games.
Bullitt Central just could not get a handle on Southern sophomore pitcher Rachel Metcalf. The Lady Cougars struck out only four times, but 11 times they were out on pop-ups.
Conversely, Metcalf’s bat drove in both of the Southern runs.
“She threw a great game,” Bullitt Central head coach Buddy Gallemore said on the field after the game. That was one of the best pitching performances I have seen this season. There were not many hard hit balls.
“When she is on, she is tough,” the coach added. “She was on tonight.”
Southern pushed across the winning run in the top of the ninth inning helped along by one of only two errors that Bullitt Central had in the game. That came to open the inning when Avery Conley lofted a fly ball to left-center field. The two Bullitt Central outfielders did not communicate well on the play and the ball dropped to the grass with Conley ending up standing on second base.
After courtesy runner Jessica Payne was inserted to run, Metcalf hit a sharp single, easily scoring Payne. Metcalf’s courtesy runner was later thrown out at home plate.
Unfortunately, in the bottom of the ninth, Bullitt Central went down three-up, three down to end the game.
Bullitt Central could manage just three hits in the game and two of those came off the bat of junior catcher Haley Dukes.
In the second inning, Dukes opened the inning with a double and then courtesy runner MacKenzie Pruitt stole third. Pruitt later scored with two outs when seventh-grader Brooklyn Benefield singled to tie the game at 1-1.
Southern’s early run had scored in the first inning when lead-off hitter Kim Penick reached on a bobble ball in the infield. After a pop-out sacrifice moved Penick to second, she advanced to third on a single by Conley. The run then scored when Metcalf hit a ball that hit and spun in front of first baseman Belle Leonard. She had no other option than to touch first base for the second out as the run scored.
Most of the rest of the game belonged to the pitchers.
Southern had only four hits off Bullitt Central junior Hailey Szpila. After the first inning, Szpila did not allow a runner to reach second base before Metcalf led off the seventh with a triple. The Lady Cougar defense played the tight situation to perfection, getting a short fly ball and then the out at home on a chopper back to Szpila, keeping the game tied.
In the fifth inning, Bullitt Central senior Dana Johnson led off with a walk and this time Gallemore used Pruitt as a pinch runner. Sacrifices by Benefield and Mallory Wiseman got Pruitt to third but a line-out to first base by lead-off hitter Sarah Noble ended that threat.
Bullitt Central’s only other threat to score came in the bottom of the seventh. Dukes led off the inning with a single and since Pruitt was now out of the game, Dukes stayed on the bases. This time Darian Deaver moved Dukes to second with a sacrifice bunt and Johnson followed with a ground-out that advanced Dukes again.
With two outs, Benefield earned a walk on a full-count, but the inning ended with a strikeout.
Bullitt Central had only six base runners in the game and left five of those runners stranded.
Szpila was doing the same thing to Southern, although, the Lady Trojans did have ten base runners. The outcome was the same as Southern left five runners on base as Bullitt Central twice threw runners out at home as well as turning a double play to end the fifth inning.
During the second through the sixth innings, Szpila threw just 25 pitches to record the 12 outs.
“It just came down to who flinched first and we did,” Gallemore noted. “They went at us defensive stand for defensive stand and hit for hit.”
Both Bullitt Central and Southern advanced to play on Monday in the Sixth Region Tournament. Southern will get to play at home while Bullitt Central will have to go on the road to take on a district winner.
The semi-finals and finals of the Sixth Region Softball Tournament will be played at Ulmer Stadium on the campus of the University of Louisville.
All-23rd District Team
After the championship game, seven players were selected to the All-23rd District Tournament team.
Metcalf led the way for Southern along with Conley and Lydia Bondora. Bullitt Central was represented on the honor team by Szpila and Dukes. Also honored were North Bullitt’s Brooke Adams and Moore’s Jennifer Wright.