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OKOLONA - Midway through the 2011 softball season, Bullitt East freshman Morgan Raymer was playing second fiddle to her twin sister at the plate and pitching only every third game for the Lady Chargers.
But over the last third of the regular season, Raymer moved to the top of coach Ricky Hoffman’s pitching rotation, facing the best teams in the area including a 1-0 loss to Ballard, the state’s top-ranked team, on the final Thursday of the regular season.
In last week’s 24th District Tournament at Southern High School, Morgan Raymer did it all in the championship game against Bullitt Central, pitching a four-hitter and going four-for-four in the lead-off slot as the Lady Chargers made it two straight district titles with a 5-2 victory over their county rivals.
Both teams advanced to this week’s Sixth Region Tournament which will start on Monday with games at Southern. The tournament will then move to the University of Louisville’s Ulmer Stadium with the semi-finals on Tuesday and the championship game on Thursday.
Bullitt East had beaten Bullitt Central 4-3 early in the season, but Morgan Raymer did not pitch in that contest. It was just after that win that Kayla Raymer was swinging the hot bat for the Lady Chargers.
“I was saying that I could do that,” Morgan Raymer said after the win over Bullitt Central on Friday. “I finally gained some confidence.”
Bullitt East only has one senior on the roster this season, but the big junior class reached the regional final last season.
“They just told me to relax and play the game like I knew how,” Morgan Raymer noted.
The big question after the game became, was the freshman more proud of her pitching or hitting.
“That’s tough,” she said with a smile. “I think I was more proud of the hitting. I hit it where they weren’t, but their pitcher is good too.”
Bullitt Central junior pitcher Seaera Minyard had struck out 14 Bullitt East batters in that first meeting. She had eight strike-outs on Friday, but the Lady Chargers collected 10 hits and the defense behind her failed to make some key plays.
Bullitt East scored twice in the third inning and pushed the margin to 5-0 in the fourth. Bullitt Central answered with two runs in the fifth and they had runners on first and second in the seventh with their top two batters coming to the plate before the last out was caught in centerfield.
“She throws a one-hitter two days ago (in the semi-finals) and then has 11 strike-outs today and goes four-for-four at the plate,” Hoffman said. “I would say she had a good day. Her and her sister have come up big for us the past few months.”
It was a frustrating loss for Bullitt Central. The Lady Cougars made an error in each of the two innings that Bullitt East scored and coach Buddy Gallemore’s team failed to make a handful of additional plays that could have kept the game closer, both of offense and defense.
“This is the first time in a while where we haven’t done the little things,” Gallemore said as the team left the field. “We had some pressure on Wednesday (a 0-0 game through three innings against North Bullitt before the Lady Cougars won 13-0) and the pressure was really applied tonight. We didn’t break, but we bent a little. Experience will do that. They have played in more games like this than we have.”
Bullitt East has played in 17 one-run contests this spring.
Gallemore did not think that seeing Raymer throw for the first time ever was a big deal. His team just had trouble accepting a wide strike zone from the umpire.
“I don’t think it was catching up with her,” The coach said. “We knew what she was throwing. We have to make adjustment during the game. The umpire tonight was giving the outside strike and strike and we didn’t adjust as well as Bullitt East did.”
Bullitt East got on the board first with two runs on three hits in the third inning. With one out, designated player Taya Rush walked and the player she was batting for, Mericate Small, came in to run for her. Morgan Raymer followed with a single down the third base line and the bases were loaded when Kaylee McClure singled.
That brought the heart of the Bullitt East line-up to the plate. Minyard induced Kayla Raymer to hit the ball to shortstop Whitney Miller and she threw home but the ball popped out of the glove of the catcher as Small slid home. Catcher Rachel Simms followed with a single to plate the second run, but Minyard avoided further damage with a pop-out and a ground-out.
In the fourth, freshman Shelby Harris reached when the Lady Cougars dropped her fly-ball in the outfield. Jamie Lutes, who had pitched the first game against Bullitt Central, followed with a swinging bunt single in front of the plate. That put runners on the corners and Bullitt Central thought they had Harris picked off third only to have the umpire call her ssafe.
After an out, Morgan Raymer came to the plate and her single plated both runners and she went to second on the throw home. After a pop-out moved courtesy runner Nikki Hinkley to third, the fifth run scored on Kayla Raymer’s single.
Bullitt Central chipped into that lead in the fifth when the bottom of the line-up started a rally. Darian Deaver opened the inning by reaching on an error, but she was erased when Hailey Szpila’s grounder hit her. With two outs, lead-off hitter Sarah Spurling was hit by a pitch.
That brought Bullitt Central’s only senior, Rachel Basil, to the plate. She laced a shot back up the middle that skipped past Small and rolled to the fence. Szpila and Spurling both scored, but when the Lady Chargers cut off the throw home, Basil was tagged out trying to get to third.
Morgan Raymer got two strike-outs to open the seventh, but then walked Miller before Spurling singled over third base. That brought Basil to the plate and Hoffman out of the dug-out to talk with his young pitcher.
“I told her that Basil had won the last meeting and that this time it was her time to win it,” the Lady Charger coach recalled. “We want to do our best in pressure situations. She did that.”
Basil had hit a walk-off grand slam home run two days earlier in the win over North Bullitt, but this time the senior could only get the ball to centerfield where Small made the game-ending catch.
Bullitt Central’s four hits included doubles by Basil and Minyard as well as singles by Spurling and Natalie Campbell. Morgan Raymer did hit three batters, but she only walked one.
Bullitt East finished with the ten hits including the four by Morgan Raymer who had a double in the sixth inning. The Lady Chargers also got a triple from Taylor Price. Five other Bullitt East players each had a single.