Ladycats are in it to win it

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Clark smashes walk-off home run in bottom of eighth inning for 5-3 win

By Tommie Kendall

Sports editor

The Ladycats’ defense kept them in it and their offense won it last Thursday night as Henry County’s softball team came away with a thrilling 5-3 win over Grant County.

It took an extra inning and a heroic hit by Taylor Clark to seal the win for the Ladycats, who were trailing 3-0 after the second inning, tied the game during a big fourth-inning bat, and went ahead in the bottom of the eighth.

With Katie Mertz standing on first base and two outs, Clark smashed the ball over the center-field fence for a walk-off home run that lifted Henry over the visiting Lady Braves. With the victory, Henry moved into the top spot in the 8th Region with an impressive 14-4 record. Grant dropped to 5-10, No. 10 in the region.

“Once again, we played solid in every position,” said HCHS coach Suzanne Cates, whose team is off to the best start in school history. “I just wish they wouldn’t wait until the end to do it. It’s the Cardiac Cats. They have a side of them that doesn’t give up. It’s fun to watch. I am very proud of them.”

It was Clark’s second home run of the season and her second game-winning hit. She has been one of the Ladycats more consistent batters this season, especially in the clutch with the game on the line.

“I think she gets up there, she’s relaxed and she doesn’t put much stress on herself, which helps in those situations,” Cates said. “She goes to the plate and does what she needs to do.”

Both teams got two base runners on during the first inning but they were all left stranded. Karie Powell, Henry’s starting shortstop, came up with a double play when a grounder was hit her way, she tagged out the base runner and threw the batter out at first base to save potential runs. Then, in the bottom of the inning, Krista DeBurger and Ally Vaughn both singled to put two on but both were left on base.

Grant managed to squeeze three runs across home plate during the top of the second inning to take the early lead. The Lady Braves loaded the bases with two outs. The next batter nailed the ball to the fence for a double that scored all three teammates with one swing of the bat. It was the only play Grant scored during the eight innings.

Henry could not score until the bottom of the fourth inning when Mertz, Veronica Hornback and Miranda Hornback all scored to even up the scoreboard. Amanda Wilson hit a one-out single — Mertz came in as a courtesy runner for the catcher. Mertz then went to second on a passed ball and Clark ground out moved her to third. With two outs, Veronica hit a shot to the outfield to scored Mertz, Miranda had a big hit to the center-field fence for a double that scored Veronica, and Heidi Smith hit a single to score Miranda. It was enough to tie the game and shift the pressure to Grant.

“I thought it was one of the best innings we’ve hit the ball all year,” Cates said. “Overall, we hit the ball really well. Grant had one of the better pitchers we’ve seen this year and it was encouraging to know that we still hit the ball that well.”

The Lady Braves were in position to score more runs in the top of the seventh inning but they could not get past a tough Henry defense. The Braves loaded the bases with just one out, but Jessica Booher struck out the next batters to escape what could have been game-changing plays.

Henry’s defense came up again in the top of the eighth inning. Smith made a jaw-dropping diving catch in left field, Miranda got underneath a high pop fly in center field and Booher threw another strikeout.

The Ladycats’ game-winning runs came in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Vaughn hit the ball to the outfield for a triple. The next batter, Wilson, went for the bunt but Vaughn was thrown out trying to squeeze home on the play — Mertz came in to base run for Wilson, who was safe at first. Then, with two outs, Clark hit the game winner, which easily cleared the fence to the cheers from the Henry crowd.

It was the second time the sophomore has come through in the clutch this season. In the 8th Region All “A” finals just one week before, Clark was at the plate with bases loaded, two outs and a full-count in the bottom of the seventh inning. She hit the ball over the shortstop’s head to score two runs and give Henry a 5-3 win.

Against Grant, Henry finished with nine hits: two from Wilson and Vaughn, and one from DeBurger, Veronica Hornback, Miranda Hornback, Smith and Clark. Henry has now hit four over-the-fence home runs this season — Clark has two, Vaughn has one and Miranda Hornback knocked one over the night before.

“It was a very good win for us,” Cates said. “I was thinking the entire game that this would be a good one to win. It’s always good to beat a regional opponent and a solid team.”

Last Wednesday, the day before the Grant County showdown, the Ladycats split its double-header games against Carroll County and Fern Creek. The Cats defeated Carroll, 10-0, before losing to Fern Creek, 14-9, in back-to-back varsity matchups.

Against Carroll, DeBurger got her first varsity win from the pitcher’s circle. It was over in six innings as Henry finished with the mercy-run rule. The Ladycats have played Carroll three times this season, beating them 5-1, 7-0 and 10-0.

“I’d like to think we’re just getting that much better,” Cates said. “We just played and took care of business.”

Against Fern Creek in the night cap, it was the opposite as the Ladycats came away with a 14-9 loss. Henry hit the ball well — Miranda Hornback hit a home run and the Cats scored nine runs — but Fern Creek finished with three home runs and scored 14, which is the most points Henry has given up this season. Booher started in the pitcher’s circle while DeBurger pitched the second half.

“Fern Creek has a good team,” Cates said. “They hit the ball very well. Normally, if a team puts up nine runs then they win, but this game it took 15. I knew Fern Creek had a good team but they were better than I thought. I had no idea they would hit the long ball like they did.”

Cates said the wind played a factor in the game with it blowing towards the batters’ back.

After last week, the Ladycats are 14-4 with losses to Beth Haven (6-0), Simon Kenton (1-0), Bishop Brossart (3-1) and Fern Creek. They won the 8th Region All “A” Classic tournament, will open the All “A” state tournament on May 9 against Beth Haven in Louisville, and will try to defend their 31st District championship the week of May 18.

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