By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
A five-run first inning propelled South Laurel to a 6-4 win over North Laurel Tuesday. Three hits and three walks in the opening inning gave the Lady Cardinals all the offense they needed.
“I’m very proud of them. They came out at batting practice today and they ripped it. They were just focused and ready to play. When we are focused we can play,” South Laurel coach James Burns said.
North Laurel pulled within a run in the fifth inning, but South Laurel starter Megan Smith retired nine of the last 10 batters she faced to maintain the lead.
“You can’t get down on a team 5-1. You’re going to have to have a few real good innings or your scrapping back the whole game, which we did. I thought we played well after that first inning,” North Laurel coach Becki Osborne said.
North Laurel had won the last two meetings between the county rivals. South Laurel won the first meeting last year 6-3 in eight innings. North Laurel won the rematch at South Laurel 2-0 in eight innings and won again 4-1 in the 13th Region Tournament.
“It’s always a big win when you beat someone that has won almost 600 games,” Burns said.
It was North Laurel that scored first. McKenzie Mills doubled with one out and scored on an infield single by Blake Johnson. The lead wouldn’t last long. Freshman Mikayla Vires started on the mound for North Laurel with Megan Baldwin sitting out a second straight game.
“We don’t usually prepare for one pitcher because you never know who is going to pitch,” Burns said.
Vires walked Cassandra Johnson and Brittany Vandeventer to open the game. That prompted a quick mound visit from Osborne.
“She said, ‘I’m not nervous,’ and I said, ‘I think you’re a little nervous so just calm down.’ She was trying to overthrow,” Osborne said.
A single by Amber Hyde loaded the bases. Hagan Burns unloaded the bases with a three-run double. Another run scored on a single by Bailey Miller. Miller later scored on a wild pitch for a 5-1 lead.
“It was just a bad start all the way around,” Osborne said.
It looked like the five-run head start might not be enough. North Laurel got two runs back in the second inning on a hard single to right field by Mills that skipped past the outfield to the fence. The Lady Jaguars were within 5-3 and Vires had found her rhythm. The Lady Cardinals did get hits from Miller and Smith in the third inning, but couldn’t get them home.
“We left too many on. We do that a lot. We just never did get that two-out hit,” Burns said. “Those two out hits are big.”
Smith was also solid in the middle innings with seven of eight batters retired when Mills stepped to the plate again to open the fifth inning. The freshman stayed hot with a solid double. She would score on a groundout by Vanessa Smith to make it a 5-4 game.
South Laurel left two more runners stranded in the fifth inning, but North Laurel could not take advantage. In the sixth, a throwing error allowed Vandeventer to reach first. She would score the insurance run on a single by Hyde.
“We got on them a little early and they kept fighting back. That last run we got was a big run. There is a big difference between one run down and two down,” Burns said.
North Laurel went down in order in the seventh inning, including Mills finally being retired.
“We started off well. We hit the ball alright. We played good defense and Megan pitched a good game,” Burns said.