OWENSBORO - What started as a week filled with high hopes, quickly turned into frustration for the Bullitt East Lady Chargers as they competed in the 2012 Rawlings/Kentucky State Softball Tournament at Jack C. Fischer Park in Owensboro.
After riding high following the school's first fast-pitch regional championship a week earlier, coach Ricky Hoffman's team collapsed under the weight of its own miscues. Bullitt East did not commit an error in beating Butler for the Sixth Region title, but they made six errors in each of two games in Owensboro, dooming them to a quick exit in the double-elimination event.
Over 11 innings in two games at the state tournament, only twice was Bullitt East able to keep an opponent from scoring. Even in those two innings, the foes had base runners.
The first culprit was the fact that Bullitt East had to take on Seventh Region champion Mercy in the first-round of the 16-team event. The Jaguars, who will be in the same district as Bullitt East starting next season, would go on to win their first fast-pitch title without a loss in the tourney, beating Lone Oak 7-2 in the final.
Mercy jumped all over the Lady Chargers on Thursday night, scoring eight runs in the second inning with the help of two errors as they rolled to a 16-1 victory. That game was stopped in the bottom of the fourth inning.
With just a short time to bounce back, the Lady Chargers could do no better on Friday, falling out of the tournament with a 9-3 loss to 11th Region champion Scott County.
Hoffman could pretty much say the same thing after each of the losses.
"It's kind of odd," Hoffman said after the Scott County game. "We showed up and we prepared. We played hard. The effort was there. That's what we preach.
"When it goes bad, it just goes bad," the veteran coach added. "We came here and didn't make plays. That's the story of our weekend."
This was the first trip ever to Jack C. Fischer Park for the fast-pitch program. In fact, none of the Bullitt East players was even born when the Lady Charger slo-pitch program played in three straight state championship games in the early 1990s on the same fields.
With that in mind, there was a combination of frustration and learning on this rocky voyage.
"It's frustrating because we're better than we showed," Hoffman said. "I don't know if it was some nerves or we were just happy to be here. We just didn't make the plays.
"For the older girls it was frustrating," the coach added. "For the younger ones it's a learning experience. Even some of the older ones can learn from this when they are playing in college."
The two losses left Bullitt East with a 27-11 record for the season.
Hoffman didn't want the last two games to take away from what was an impressive season for the red and gold.
"That's what we told them after the game," the coach said. You can't take away a regional title and three straight district titles for these seniors. We came here and played hard, but it wasn't our best showing.
"We earned the right to be here," Hoffman noted. "They can't take that away. We did that right. That was good."
Mercy Shows None
Everyone was keyed up for the first game in the tournament and Bullitt East got some early confidence when Nikki Hinkley led off the game with a single and later came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Jamie Lutes.
Actually, the writing was on the wall on Lutes' fly ball. The bases were loaded at the time after both Rachel Simms and Kirsten Price had walked. Lutes drove the ball deep to left field, but Mercy's Aubrey Meiners tracked the ball down, making the catch over her head just in front of the temporary fence.
Bullitt East would not threaten again. In fact, the Lady Chargers did not have another base runner after Price's walk.
Mercy rallied with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning as they reached Lutes for four hits. The Jaguars, who had beaten Bullitt East twice during the regular season, then broke the game open with eight runs on six hits in the second inning. The Lady Chargers had two errors in the inning.
The defensive miscues got worse in the third inning as Bullitt East started throwing the ball wildly around the infield trying to get an out. Mercy added two runs in the third and then ended the game when they scored four runs in the fourth inning with just one out before the game was stopped by the 15-run rule.
Mercy finished the game with 16 hits including four of those by freshman Jordan Vorbrink. Bullitt East could do nothing with the eventual tournament co-Most Valuable Player as she went four-for-four with a triple while driving in seven runs.
Vorbrink lives in Bullitt County and played the past two years at North Bullitt before transferring to Mercy last summer.
"We have got to make plays," Hoffman said after the loss. "Our pitching wasn't that bad. We got the ground balls but didn't make the plays.
"That's a good team," the coach added. "They put so much pressure on you. You can't throw it around. They are just a very good team."
If Lutes' drive finds grass in the outfield it could have changed the game drastically.
"It's a different game," Hoffman noted. "We knew we could hit JJ (Francis, the Mercy pitcher). We've faced her three times. We got the one run and another one or two might have really put pressure on them."
Scott County Loss
With only 16 hours to put the Mercy game out of mind, the Lady Chargers were back on the field Friday morning. This game did start an hour later than scheduled because Mercy had needed ten innings to beat Greenwood 2-1 in the first game of the day.
Unfortunately, the red and gold could not find the answer to its defensive woes. The Lady Chargers made two more errors in the top of the first inning to help Scott County score three runs. Bullitt East did score a run in the bottom of the first, but they could get no closer.
The Lady Chargers did manage four hits in this game. Two of those came in the first inning as Taylor Price singled in front of a walk to Simms and an infield single by Kirsten Price loaded the bases. Lutes' followed with a hit to third base, but Taylor Price was thrown out at the plate. The run then scored when Simms' courtesy runner, Lindsay Renneisen, raced home on a wild pick-off throw.
With Scott County leading 6-1, Bullitt East did score a run in the sixth inning. Taylor Price reached on an error by the second baseman and moved to third on walks to Lutes and Morgan Raymer. Price then scored on a wild pitch.
After Scott County scored three times in the top of the seventh, Bullitt East's final run came on the last play of the game. Taya Rush led off inning with a walk and after an out, Hinkley doubled. Taylor Price then chopped the ball to the shortstop and she was thrown out at first while Rush was scoring, but the game ended with Hinkley being thrown out trying to get to third.
"I can't stress enough that we didn't make the plays," Hoffman said. "But I can't say we weren't trying."
Hoffman used all three of his pitchers in this game, getting important experience for sophomore Morgan Raymer and freshman Loren Roby for next season. Lutes was the starter and took the loss as she worked the first three frames, giving up six hits and four runs.