The Henry County Lady Cats faced the Walton-Verona Bearcats in the first round of the 8th Region tournament on May 26 with a good shot at advancing to the semifinals. The Lady Cats defeated the Bearcats 2-1 in the second game of the regular season.
But Walton turned the tables on the Lady Cats with a 6-3 victory that saw the Bearcats score in five of six innings, with the killer blow coming in the sixth when they scored two runs after the Lady Cats had pulled to within one run in the top half of the inning.
For the Lady Cats every inning was a struggle defensively as the Bearcats were able to put the leadoff batter on base every time.
The Bearcats used good base running and the ability to advance the lead off runner to get one run across in each of the first four innings. The Lady Cats were only able to blank Walton in the fifth inning.
The Bearcats’ first run came when their leadoff batter walked to start the bottom of the first. She was advanced to second on a bunt. After taking third on a wild pitch, she scored when the next batter reached on an error.
Katie James got the Lady Cats’ first hit of the game in the second inning but was caught stealing for the second out of the inning. Paige DeBurger popped up to end the inning.
Walton’s second run came when the Bearcats got back-to-back singles to open the bottom of the second. Another sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third. A groundout to second baseman Olivia Whaley scored the run.
Aly Stanley got a two-out single in the top of the third and stole second base but the Cats could not bring her home.
In the bottom of the inning Walton added another run. The lead off batter reached on a walk and a one-out double scored her to make it 3-0.
The Lady Cats scratched out their first run of the game in the fourth when Cheyenne Clark reached on an error to lead off. After two outs had not advanced Clark, James reached on another error. Paige DeBurger then delivered a single to right field to load the bases.
Shelby Ray pushed the Cats’ run across with a single to center field to score Clark.
Walton pushed the lead back to three runs in the bottom of the inning. The leadoff batter singled to left field and then stole second base. The next batter laid down a good bunt that advanced her to third. The third batter of the inning grounded out to the pitcher, Stanley, but it was enough to get the runner home form third.
After a scoreless fifth inning that saw DeBurger replace Stanley in the pitcher’s circle, the Lady Cats rallied for two runs to make it a one-run game.
Cline got things started with a one-out single to center field. James followed with a infield single to give the Cats runners on first and second. DeBurger grounded out to the pitcher, advancing Cline to third and James to second.
Shelby Ray came to the plate next and hit a blooper behind first base. The Walton first baseman stumbled going back for the ball and Ray had a two-RBI single.
The Lady Cats were now in striking distance and needed to hold the Bearcats to give themselves a better chance going into their final at-bat but Walton scored two runs in the inning to pad their lead to 6-3.
The Walton pitcher, Hannah Thacker, who had 11 strikeouts and no walks in the game, was able to get the Lady Cats out in order in the top of the seventh to end the game and the Lady Cats’ season.
Lady Cat Coach Jon Kasten thought that Walton’s ability to get the leadoff hitter on was pivotal in the Bearcats’ victory.
“They were able to get the leadoff runner on in each of the first four innings and in every inning but one overall,” Kasten said. “They scored that leadoff runner in every one of those innings. Walton is a good team and they did what they needed to do in those innings. The first three runs that they got were groundball outs to the right side when our only play was at first base.”
Kasten was pleased with his team’s mental approach to the game.
“We came out with the aggressive mentality that I wanted,” he said. I liked the fact that we were up at the plate swinging the bats.
“Katie James got on base all three times and scored two runs and Shelby Ray had two hits and three RBIs. We were able to put the ball in play, but not hit gaps, or holes in the infield enough.
“I’m proud of our team this year,” Kasten continued. “We played a much tougher schedule than we have in the last couple of years and we were able to play with just about anyone on the schedule. We have no seniors this year so all this group will be back. I look forward to next year with this group.”
The Lady Cats finished the season with a 14-17 record while Walton went on to lose in the semifinals to eventual regional champions Anderson County. The Bearcats finished the season at 24-10.