By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
BEREA—North Laurel didn’t travel to Madison Southern (12-6) expecting one of the most intense games of the season. When Madison Southern loaded the bases with one out in the seventh inning, any mistake could have meant a loss.
“I’m praying we win it. If not, I was hoping for extra innings,” North Laurel coach Beck y Osborne said.
The North defense rose to the occasion by making key plays to spoil the Lady Eagles‘ rally. Briana Lanham doubled down the left field line with one out. That was followed by an infield single by Bethany Mays. If North Laurel second baseman Kailin Yantz doesn’t make a diving stop on Mays’ shot up the middle, it would have tied the game.
The stress level increased when Jaycee Combs loaded the bases on what appeared to be the third out. When Emily Sears throw was received by first baseman Farris Strong the Lady Jaguars headed toward the dugout with an apparent win. The official ruled that Strong had touched the portion of the base intended for the runner and not the inner base intended for the fielder.
With the bases loaded in a 2-1 game, someone had to make a play.
On McKenzie Richardson’s grounder to shortstop Sidney Herrell, the Lady Jaguars did everything right. Herrell charged the ball and did not hesitate to throw home and cut down the tying run. Catcher Blake Johnson took the chest-high throw for the out and then stepped forward to make the perfect throw for first. There was no question Strong was in the right spot this time as the double play ended the game.
“That was a good play by Sidney and then Blake made a very smart play. That’s a play a lot of catchers wouldn’t have thought about,” Osborne said. “That was too close for comfort.”
The North Laurel coach didn’t think it was a matter of still recovering from a loss to South Laurel earlier in the week. The tight game had more to do with an offense that never could get going.
“Our bats just weren’t working. We didn’t hit very good at all,” Osborne said.
The Lady Jaguars had nine hits, with at least one in every inning except the first. The hitting was not timely with the only runs coming in the fourth inning with the help of a two-out Madison Southern error.
The fact that the Lady Eagles pitcher didn’t throw quite as hard as the North Laurel hitters were used to may have played a role in the spotty offense.
“We couldn’t wait back on a pitch. When we did, we hit it right at them,” Osborne said.
The only hit produced by the first three hitters in the North Laurel lineup was a seventh-inning double by Kailin Yantz. Until that hit they had gone 0-11.
“Now is the time you have start to get hits or do whatever you can do to get on base. They’ll get out of it,” Osborne said.
North Laurel did get a solid pitching performance from Megan Baldwin, who had been out of the lineup the previous two games. Baldwin allowed eight hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. She retired 12 straight batters in one stretch before giving up her only run in the fifth inning.
“Megan pitched an excellent game. She hit he spots well. She actually helped us stay in this game,” Osborne said.
The game remained scoreless until a two-run fourth inning by the Lady Jaguars. Vanessa Smith lifted a soft hit to left field to lead off the inning. With two outs, Baldwin delivered an RBI single. An error on a Sears’ grounder kept the inning alive. The error proved costly when Mikayla Vires single to left field made it a 2-0 game.
Baldwin had retired 12 straight when Paige King led off the fifth inning with a first-pitch single. It looked like Baldwin would keep the shutout when she retired the next two batters. Briana Lanham ripped a sharp single, but the Lady Eagles did not gamble on beating Smith’s arm in centerfield. Bethany Mays singled to drive in King with the Lady Eagles’ only run.
“They just started catching up with (Baldwin’s) screwball. Her screwball was on tonight,” Osborne said.
Jaycee Combs also singled to load the bases. A grounder to Sears ended the inning without further damage.
Madison Southern had been on a roll with six wins in its last seven games.
North Laurel was scheduled to play Scott County (23-1) Friday and will travel to Madison Central Tuesday.