LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
WINCHESTER—North Laurel’s dream of repeating as 11-12 year old girls’ state champions came to a halt Thursday, but no without a fight.
Trailing 5-0 heading into the top of the sixth inning against Russell-Flatwoods, the North girls rallied to cut the lead to 5-3 and had the bases loaded with two outs before Alexis Gibson grounded to third to force out Emilee Albright at the base and end the game.
“We didn’t get our bats going early,” coach Shane Brewer said. “We misplayed some balls early and didn’t regain momentum until our last at bat.”
For five innings, North Laurel had trouble getting to Russell-Flatwoods pitcher Sara Hieneman. She held them hitless through three innings, where she recorded six strikeouts. Only two North runners reached base during the first three innings, and those were by walks in the second.
But it was in the top of the sixth that nerves seemed to be getting to the young pitcher, as she allowed back-to-back singles to open the inning, walked the bases full, allowed one run to score on a wild pitch and walked another in before finally getting the last out and sending her team onto the Central Region Tournament in Indianapolis.
“The only thing she worried about was letting her team down,” coach Kendra Holmes said. “Nobody put as much heart and soul into this win as she did.” For Heineman it was a bit of revenge, as North Laurel beat her two years ago in the 9-10 year old state tournament.
There were two plays in the game, both against North Laurel, that could have changed things had the calls went the other way.
The first happened in the second inning, the second in the sixth.
In the second, with one out and one on, Russell-Flatwoods Maggie Jachimczuk hit a grounder to second, where the ball hit runner Grace Hall as she headed for second. But the umpire ruled the ball was unplayable by secondbaseman Madison Sechrest, and both runners were safe. Russell-Flatwoods would go on to score three runs in the inning.
“That call at second, if it would have went our way, we could have been out of the inning,” Brewer said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a ball hit a runner and the runner not be called out.”
In the sixth inning, North had cut the lead to 5-2 with Makinlee Philpot on third, Olivia Miller at the plate and no outs. Hieneman uncorked a wild pitch and Philpot raced for home.
Russell-Flatwoods catcher Jacyln Holmes retrieved the ball and tossed it back to Hieneman covering the plate. The throw was high, as was the tag, and it looked like Philpot had slid safely into home. But the home plate umpire called her out.
“She was safe,” Brewer said. “I saw it (from his first base coaching position). He (the umpire) said she didn’t reach home. I showed him her cleat mark where she did.”
Now, instead of trailing 5-3 with no outs, North was still down by three with one out. Heineman walked the bases loaded before striking out Kelsey Patton for the second out.
Beth Marcum drew a walk that forced in Miller to make it 5-3. Heineman then got Gibson to forced out Albright at third to end the game.
“The girls didn’t give up,” Brewer said. “They played their hearts out. Not one of them quit. A few breaks and it’s a new game.”
Russell-Flatwoods opened the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles against Madison McDaniel, but they couldn’t push either run across.
It was the same for North Laurel in the top of the second, as Philpot and Miller drew back-to-back walks to open the inning but the next three batters were retired, two by strikeouts.
In the bottom of the second, McDaniel hit lead-off batter Hall to start the inning, then struck out Ali Hartman. Next came the controversial play that kept the inning alive for Russell-Flatwoods when a batted ball hit Hall but she wasn’t called out. Now, instead of one on and two outs, Russell-Flatwoods had two runners on with one out.
McDaniel struck out Camryn Ratliff for the second out before walking Annalee Miller to load the bases.
A grounder to short by Madison Darnell looked to get North out of the inning, but an error allowed Hall to score and kept the inning alive. A single by Hieineman drove in two more runs to up the lead to 3-0.
Another run was added in the third to make it 4-0. Holmes led things off with a single and later scored on a ground out by Jachimczuk.
McDaniel led the fourth inning off with a single off Heineman’s glove and moved to second on a passed ball, but was left stranded there when the next three batters struck out.
The lead increased to 5-0 in the bottom of the fifth when Holmes led off with a double and scored on a passed ball.
“I would like to thank all our fans for the support they have given us,” Brewer said. “We have the greatest fans in the world at North Laurel.”