LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
If it can be more important than a North Laurel-South Laurel game this one was for the Lady Jaguars. It wasn’t because they lost to the Lady Cardinals earlier. It wasn’t because these are the top contenders for the 13th Region title. It became about their coach.
North Laurel coach Becky Osborne had not been in the dugout since an April 24 game against Whitley County. A car accident Thursday almost turned tragic for Osborne and her daughter, Ashlyn.
“It really meant a lot to us when we saw Becky coming through the bleachers. The kids were really emotional. We had a lot of tears,” North Laurel assistant Rogers Strong said. “People don’t realize how close we were to losing both her and Ashlyn.”
Strong has served as head coach while Osborne recuperates and continued to guide the team as Osborne watched Monday from a seat next to the dugout. The Lady Jaguars did not know she would be there.
“We just wanted it for her after all she’s went through. We were playing for her tonight,” North Laurel’s Vanessa Smith said.
Even with the desire to win one for their coach, the Lady Jaguars again got a test from South Laurel that required extra innings. South Laurel won the first meeting this season 6-3, also in eight innings. Monday’s 2-0 loss was the fourth shutout of the season for the Lady Cardinals and the second in the last three games. North Laurel has not been shut out this season.
“We’ve been hitting the ball real well. We put up 52 runs in six games last weekend,” Strong said. “Just being honest with you, when its North-South you can throw everything out because both teams are going to go as hard as they can go.”
North Laurel got more from Megan Baldwin than expected. There was some question whether Baldwin could even pitch after six games over the weekend left her legs needing more time to recover. When Mikayla Vires was not able to pitch due to health related reasons, Baldwin’s decision was made.
“That kind of forced our hand and Megan really, really stepped up because she was sore and tired,” Strong said. “She was sharp and hit her spots. Whatever I asked for she delivered a tremendous effort by her.”
Baldwin allowed just three hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. She also delivered the game-winning hit with two outs in the eighth inning.
Megan Smith nearly matched Baldwin. Although she allowed eight hits, three came in the eighth inning. She retired nine of the first 10 batters she faced. North Laurel’s first hit was a single by Emily Sears that was almost snared by second baseman Casie Finley.
South Laurel threatened for the first time with two outs in the third inning. Finley reached on an error and Destinee Fisher singled, but no South Laurel runner would make it past second base.
North Laurel got doubles from Kristin Fields in the fourth inning and Sears in the fifth with neither runner able to move up. They would leave two more runners stranded in the seventh inning.
The play that saved the game for North Laurel may have come with the Lady Cardinals’ leadoff batter in the bottom of the seventh inning. Amber Hyde stroked a solid line drive that most had already counted as a hit. Not centerfielder Vanessa Smith, who dove, rolled, and came up holding the ball.
“It was a great play, but we expect that out of Vanessa. She’s a tremendous outfielder and if it hangs at all she is going to get a glove on it,” Strong said. “She gives it everything she’s got every play.”
It would be an even bigger play when Hagan Burns followed a single and Megan Smith reached on an error, but they would be stranded.
“I just saw the ball coming and knew if I didn’t get it they could have won,” Smith said. “I was just trying everything to get it.”
The eighth inning would be the third straight inning North Laurel led off with a single. This time they would capitalize. It was eighth grader McKenzie Mills that opened the inning with a single to right field. Sidney Herrell followed with a bullet off the pitcher’s shoulder. A bunt by Kailin Yantz advanced the runners and set up Baldwin’s game winner.
“This was a very emotional game for all of us with Becky being back for the first time since the car accident. Emotions were running pretty high and we knew we had to win,” Baldwin said.
As big as the cross town rivalry is for both teams, Strong said it will really count should the two contenders meet again this season.
“The road to Owensboro goes through London, North and South. We’re more than likely going to see them again and that’s the one that’s going to count for both of us,” Strong said.