LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
OWENSBORO—It was a game of firsts for North Laurel.
The Lady Jaguars got the game’s first hit and first run in the first inning. Then Mikayla Vires’ first state tournament base hit would spark a sixth inning rally that led to a 3-1 win in the first game of the 2012 Rawlings KHSAA Softball State Tournament.
“These kids, you just can’t say enough about their character. That’s why we’ve been able to get where we are at, 36 wins now,” North Laurel coach Rogers Strong said. “It’s not been one person. It’s been a team.”
That character was tested when the Kittens rallied to tie the score in the third inning. The Lady Jaguars were able to work their way out of further trouble that inning after a pair of Ashland hits and a North Laurel error. They escaped another threat in the sixth when Ashland’s first two runners reached.
“That team’s got some sticks. To hold them to one run speaks volumes about Megan (Baldwin) and her performance,” Strong said.
One constant Thursday was the pitching of Baldwin. The North Laurel junior was all business in limiting Ashland to one run for just the second time this season. The Kittens entered the tournament averaging just under 10 runs per game. Baldwin allowed five hits and two walks. The only run she allowed was unearned.
“I couldn’t be prouder of her. She threw a whale of a game. Her maturity is so much better. Her poise on the mound,” Strong said.
The Lady Jaguars played like a mature team despite having just one senior and starting two eighth graders. Strong had no doubt his young players would be ready.
“They’ve been steady all year. They’ve played these games all year. They’ve been up here with us since the sixth grade,” Strong said.
Some of the pressure eased when the Lady Jaguars jumped ahead in the top of the first inning. Sidney Herrell led off with a walk and scored on a two-out single by Baldwin.
Ashland tied the score in the third inning with a two-out rally. Kelsee Hammonds singled to left field and Kathryn Jackson reached on an error. McKenzie Vanover then ripped a single off the glove of third baseman Emily Sears to score Hammonds.
From there, there was little offense until the sixth inning. Vires led off the sixth inning by driving a double into the gap in left centerfield.
“It was huge. She got us going. It got us back to the top of the order where we could do some things,” Strong said. “Then you have (Kailin) Yantz with a little bunt down the line that was hard to handle.”
Yantz’s bunt was bobbled by the third baseman, who had no chance of throwing out the speedy eighth grader. Kristin Fields grounder was backhanded by the shortstop, but there was no play as Vires scored the go-ahead run. Sears reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases.
North Laurel continued to put the ball in play and challenge the defense. Vanessa Smith drove in Fields with another shot the infield stopped, but could not get anyone out.
The 3-1 lead held up, although Ashland threatened in the bottom of the inning. McKenzie Vanover doubled to deep left field with Farris Strong almost making the circus catch. Emily Peece cued a spinning infield single. Baldwin fanned the next batter. When Megan Hensley popped out to Fields at first for the second out, Fields threw to second to catch the runner of base and end the inning.
“I would liked to have had more (runs), but I did know we had seven, eight, nine up in the bottom of the seventh and I felt pretty comfortable as long as we didn’t get back to the top of the order,” Strong said.
The Kittens went down in order in the seventh.