By Denis House
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
WINCHESTER—An 8-run fourth inning, helped along by five Winchester errors, allowed North Laurel to break open a two-run game and cruise to a 17-5 win Wednesday night in the semifinals of the girls’ 11-12 year old state tournament at Lykins Fields.
With that win, North Laurel advanced to Thursday night’s championship game, where they were scheduled to face Russell-Flatwoods, who beat Louisville Valley Sports, 21-10.
Through four games, North Laurel has outscored its opponents, 55-9. They were coming off a 14-1 win over Washington County. This was the first game of the tournament to go six innings for North.
It was also a rematch of the tournament opener, which North Laurel won, 13-3. Coach Shane Brewer wanted to make sure his team didn’t take this game lightly.
“I prepared our girls for this,” Brewer said. “I told them that Winchester was the host team and you can’t go by what happened on Saturday. I told them to keep fighting and not give them a chance. We stepped up and made some big plays.”
This game was close through three innings, as North Laurel held a 4-2 lead heading into the top of the fourth. That’s when the wheels came off for Winchester, committing five errors which allowed North to score eight runs on just one hit to take control, 12-2.
Twice in the game North was close to ending it early with the Mercy Rule, but both times Winchester scored to prolong the game. North was leading by 10 going into the bottom of the fourth when Winchester scored one run. Then heading into the bottom of the fifth, North was again up by 10, 13-3, only to see Winchester put two on the board and force the game to go the full six innings.
“We should have put the game away in the fourth,” Brewer said. “We just had a moment of hesitation that allowed Winchester to score.”
North took a 2-0 lead in the first when, with the bases loaded, Hannah Carson singled to score Madison Sechrest and Makinlee Philpot. That was one of three hits for Carson, who also had a triple and single.
“Hannah was huge tonight,” Brewer said. “She had been struggling so I dropped her a couple of places in the batting line-up. She stepped up and did what she had to do tonight.”
Two more runs in the top of the second made it 4-0 in favor of North. Kelsey Patton opened the inning by reaching on an error, and Beth Marcum followed with a single. Patton scored on a ground out by Sechrest, while Marcum came home on an RBI single by Madison McDaniel.
Through two innings, McDaniel kept Winchester at bay, holding them scoreless and hitless. The lone runner reached on a walk.
Brewer pulled McDaniel after two innings and brought Emilee Albright into pitch. Winchester was able to score two runs off her in the bottom of the third to cut the lead to 4-2.
Then came the top of the fourth, an inning that Winchester would love to forget. North Laurel scored eight runs on just one hit as Winchester committed five errors, and suddenly a two-run game was now a 10-run one, 12-2.
Courtney Miles took over in the circle for Haley Goldhahn. She walked Alexis Gibson and Sechrest to open the inning, then McDaniel reached on an error to load the bases.
Philpot reached on another error, which allowed Gibson to score. Sechrest would score on a passed ball to make it 6-2. Olivia Miller was then hit by a pitch, then an error at third allowed McDaniel to come for the North’s seventh run.
A ground out by Carson drove in Philpot, and Miller advanced to third. Albright struck out, but the catcher dropped the ball. As Albright raced to first, Winchester catcher Elena Guerra picked up the ball and prepared to fire it to first, only no one was covering the bag and Albright was safe.
Miller scored on another passed ball, then Jade Williams was hit by a pitch. Beth Marcum grounded to short, where Kayla Curtis fielded the ball and prepared to throw it to second for a force out. Unfortunately, no one was covering second, and Albright scored for a 10-2 lead.
Gibson then grounded to third, but the throw home was dropped, allowing Williams to score. A single by Sechrest, who has been swinging a hot bat during the tournament, scored Marcum to make it 12-2.
Winchester opened the bottom of the inning with a single by Guerra. Albright got the next two batters out, and North was one out away from ending the game early.
But Winchester had other ideas.
A single to center by Leah Curtis allowed Guerra to score to bring the lead under 10 at 12-3.
North got that run back in the top of the fifth when Miller scored on a fielder’s choice to restore the 10-run lead, 13-3.
Jazz Jervis took over the pitching duties for North in the fifth. Just like the fourth inning, North was one out away from ending the game when Winchester scored two runs to cut the lead to 13-5.
A scary moment for North happened in the inning when Sydney Elkins took off from first in an attempt to steal second. Marcum’s throw to Gibson was a little high, and Gibson leaped to attempt to make the catch. As she did, Elkins slid into her and Gibson fell to the ground, where she stayed for a few moments before getting to her feet and staying in the game.
“That was definitely a scary moment for us,” Brewer said.
North added four runs in the top of the sixth to make it 17-5. Gibson singled and scored on an RBI double by Sechrest. McDaniel followed with a single that scored Sechrest. The bases were loaded when Carson forced Miller at second, but McDaniel scored on the play. The final run came when Jervis grounded out but Philpot scored.
Winchester put two runners on with two outs in the bottom of the inning, couldn’t push either across and North Laurel won, 17-5.
“We had a lot of players step up in big situations,” Brewer said. “We were smart on our baserunning. We’ve worked on that. We like to be aggressive early in the game. All 11 players were selective at the plate. We don’t swing at bad pitches.”