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UPDATE: Lady Chargers ready for a long week

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Mercy will be tough opener for BE

By Mike Farner

 UPDATE (Friday, June 8, 3:45 p.m.): - The Bullitt East Lady Chargers experienced a shorter trip to Owensboro than they had originally hoped.

Bullitt East fell to Scott County 9-3 in their second game of the 2012 Rawlings/KHSAA Softball State Tournament.

It was the second loss for the Lady Chargers in the double-elimination tournament. They were defeated 16-1 by Mercy on Thursday.

Check Monday's edition of The Pioneer News and www.pioneernews.net for full stories from the tournament.

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UPDATE (Friday, June 8, 10:15 a.m.) - Bullitt East faced a whirlwind opponent Thursday, falling 16-1 to Mercy in their first game at the 2012 Rawlings/KHSAA Softball State Tournament in Owensboro.

Bullitt East next faces Scott County in the losers' bracket at 11 a.m. on Friday. Scott County lost their forst round match-up to Greenwood 3-0.

Continue to check www.pioneernews.net for further tournament updates, and check Monday's edition of The Pioneer News for full tournament coverage.

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MOUNT WASHINGTON - Pack for three days. That is the directive that Bullitt East softball coach Ricky Hoffman gave to his team on Monday as they prepared to head to Owensboro for the 2012 Rawlings/Kentucky State Softball Tournament which starts on Thursday with the Lady Chargers taking on Mercy at 8 p.m. at Jack C. Fischer Park.

This will be the first-ever fast-pitch state tournament trip for the Lady Chargers. Bullitt East was a state-power in the early 1990s in slo-pitch, playing in three straight state championship games during one stretch with those games also being played in Owensboro at the same facility.

This time, the red and gold have an uphill battle as they open with Mercy, a team that has been the state runner-up twice in the past three seasons. After beating second-ranked Ballard 6-1 in the Seventh Region final, the Jaguars head to Owensboro as one of the pre-tournament favorites.

Bullitt East cannot argue with that, having lost to the Jaguars 6-0 back on March 24 in a tournament at Meade County and then falling to coach Josh Bloomer’s team 10-0 at Mercy on May 8.

Hoffman, who has turned the program around in three seasons, doesn’t want to lose sight that this is a double-elimination event. The Lady Chargers are heading to Owensboro to win a state championship, not to beat Mercy.

“We see it as we’re going to have to play them sometime in the tournament,” Hoffman said after the team took batting practice on Monday. “I talked with coach (Steve) Small (former Western Kentucky University women’s basketball coach) and he gave me something to think about and that is that we’re going to go there to win the state tournament.

“Our goal going into it is to win the tournament,” the coach added. “There is no other goal. We’re not looking to just win a game or two.”

Mercy is just the first of many hurdles for the Lady Chargers this week.

“They are so deep,” Hoffman said of a team that enters the tournament with a 32-8 record with a four-game winning streak. “They switch players more than I have ever seen. They have great fielding and great speed. They are just a great team that is well coached.”

Mercy has just two seniors on the team, but one of those is the team’s main pitcher, JJ Francis, who has a 23-4 record this spring with a 0.81 ERA. Against Ballard, Francis worked the first four innings before giving way to Leigh Ellen Thomas in a game that was only 2-1 at the time of the switch.

Francis is the team’s number four hitter while the other senior, Morgan Ellington, bats second. Those two sandwich number three hitter, freshman Jordan Vorbrink, who is very familiar to Bullitt East players. Vorbrink started for two seasons at North Bullitt before transferring to Mercy over the summer. Vorbrink is the Jaguars’ top hitter with a .416 batting average.

Bullitt East enters the state tournament with a .368 batting average (Mercy is at .319) with an ERA of 2.59. Mercy’s overall ERA is 1.11.

The top hitter for the Lady Chargers is senior catcher Rachel Simms who has a .550 batting average. She is closely followed by clean-up hitter Kirsten Price at .500 and lead-off hitter Nikki Hinkley at .417. 

As of Monday, Hoffman either hadn’t decided or didn’t want to reveal what his pitching plans are for Thursday and beyond. He started senior Jamie Lutes in all three games of the Sixth Region Tournament, but brought in sophomore Morgan Raymer in the third inning of the semi-final win over Holy Cross when Lutes ran into trouble. Lutes bounced back with a strong outing in the 8-2 victory over Butler in the regional final.

Morgan Raymer was the starting pitcher in the first game against Mercy while Lutes pitched in the second meeting. In neither game did Hoffman feel his pitchers were at their best.

In fact, along with freshman Loren Roby, Hoffman feels that his team is well suited for a double-elimination format that could have the team playing as many as four games on Friday.   

“We don’t have overpowering pitching,” Hoffman said. “But, we feel we have depth with our pitching and with our hitting and fielding we feel we can go deep into the tournament.”

The other two teams in Bullitt East’s little ‘pod’ are Scott County and Greenwood, a pair of top-ten teams. The Lady Chargers will play one of those two squads on Friday at noon depending on the first round wins and losses.

“To advance you have to beat the best teams,” Hoffman noted. “We’re not afraid of our bracket. We’re playing well right now and we’re ready to go.”

On Monday, Hoffman was also thinking of a plan to use sophomore Kayla Raymer if she is cleared this week to play after missing the past three weeks with a case of mono. She had a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday to check on her improvement. Raymer started at shortstop until being sidelined during the last week of the regular season.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Scott has filled in at shortstop and done well, but she does not bat. Hoffman was hoping that Kayla Raymer would at least be able to hit this week as she had a .457 batting average before she was sidelined.

One sidelight to this game is that starting next season, Mercy and Bullitt East will both be in the 24th District as Mercy is being shifted to the Sixth Region. Those two teams will be joined in the district by Fern Creek, Jeffersontown and Whitefield Academy.

Preparation This Week

Hoffman gave his team Sunday off and they returned to practice on Monday night with hitting drills. The team was then going to be on the field for a regular practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday. They will leave for Owensboro on Thursday morning and will go through a light practice at Apollo High School that afternoon.

The state tournament will begin on Thursday at 5 p.m. (local time, Owensboro is in the central time zone) with four games in the upper bracket. Then there will be four games at 7 p.m. in the lower bracket.

Action will resume at 9 a.m. on Friday morning with Bullitt East taking the field at either 9 a.m. or 11 a.m. to play either Scott County or Greenwood. Games will continue throughout Friday.

The overall championship game is to be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Correction

Monday’s story of Bullitt East’s win over Holy Cross in the Sixth Region semi-finals mistakenly left out the name of Lady Charger pinch-runner Lindsay Renneisen. The seventh-grader is the courtesy runner for Simms so sees a lot of playing time.

In fact, Renneisen almost got the start on Saturday after normal second basemen Kaylee McClure suffered a finger injury in warm-ups. She opted to play and X-rays over the weekend showed that there was no broken bone.

Final Roster

While teams are allowed to put as many as 21 players on the roster for the state tournament, Hoffman has opted to carry just 19 players this week and that includes Kayla Raymer.

The roster for this week will be: Kaylee McClure, James Lutes, Taylor Price, Bri Hare, Kayla Payne, Jessica Hanna, Lindsay Renneisen, Taya Rush, Kaitlyn Scott, Taylor Alvey, Kayla Raymer, Morgan Raymer, Rachel Simms, Nikki Hinkley, Kirsten Price, Shelby Harris, Molly Lucas, Kelsey Gravens and Loren Roby.