In the first round of the 8th Region tournament, the Henry County Ladycats were right where they wanted to be — ahead of Shelby County 5-4 with just a single inning remaining.
But in the end, Henry eventually faltered and the Lady Rockets rallied with a game-deciding seventh-inning bat to pull out the come-from-behind 8-5 victory. The four late runs sealed them a spot in the semifinals of the tournament, and ended Henry’s remarkable season at 17-14.
“It was a very difficult loss, especially since we had the lead going into the last inning,” Henry coach Jon Kasten said a few days after the contest. “I have to give Shelby credit though. They never gave up and kept coming. Even when they were down 4-0 early on, they kept fighting and came all the way back.”
A week earlier, the Ladycats celebrated their third straight 31st District championship, but walked off the field in disappointment after losing to Shelby, the 30th District runners-up, last Monday at Oldham County’s softball field.
“I told our girls afterwards that they have nothing to hold their heads down about,” Kasten said. “They represented our school and the district very well. It was still a very good game.”
The Ladycats jumped out to an early 4-0 advantage after two innings of play. In the bottom of the first, Ashley Buck drew a leadoff walk and Karie Powell singled to put two on. Jessica Booher sacrificed the duo over a base, Shelby’s infielders went to their third baseman, who mishandled the ball which allowed both Buck and Powell to race home for the game’s first two runs. Booher moved to second on the play, where she was stranded after three outs.
During the second inning, with two outs and no base runners on, Heidi Smith was hit by a pitch, while Taylor Clark and Buck were both walked to load the bases. Powell’s single scored Smith and Booher’s single scored Taylor to stretch the Cats’ lead to 4-0.
From that point forward though, Henry’s hot start began to fizzle out as the tables started to turn.
Shelby scored twice in the fourth inning, once in the fifth and once in the sixth to tie the game at 4. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, Henry retook the lead with one run. Clark led off with a double (Miranda Hornback came in to base run for her). Hornback was advanced to third on a Buck sacrifice and scored on a wild pitch.
The Lady Rockets’ big bat, which was the game decider, came in their final trip to the plate. Shelby started with four straight singles, with the last one scoring two runs to give them their first lead of the game, 6-5. Before the inning came to an end, Shelby added two security runs to go in front 8-5.
With three outs and no runs crossing home plate, Henry couldn’t produce in its final bat of the season to come away empty handed.
“They just hit the ball very well,” Kasten said of Shelby, who improved to 23-12 and went on to lose to Anderson County in the finals Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Ladycats had multiple hits as well, but couldn’t get them when they needed them the most.
“We had base runners just about every inning — I thought we hit the ball well, too,” Kasten said of his squad that only had four strikeouts the entire game. “We just couldn’t get the timely hits.”
For Henry, the seniors did go out on a good note. Buck was 1 of 1 at the plate with two walks, one score and a sacrifice that provided the Cats exactly what they needed at the leadoff spot. She was the only Henry player named to the All-Region Team. And Kaitlyn Foree, throwing her final game before joining the Transylvania University Pioneers next year, pitched well considering the circumstances.
“I thought Kaitlyn threw a good game,” Kasten said of the ace, who usually works the outside corners and mixes up her pitches to fool batters. “The umpires made it a little tough with no corners. It was a consistent strike zone, but they really had to just pitch to the batters.”
When the Ladycats take to the field again, they will be without Buck and Foree — two players that provided more than just a glove on the field.
“We will definitely miss our seniors,” Kasten said. “Ashley’s been the catalyst and anchor in center field for three years now. We’re going to miss her bat, glove and leadership. And there’s nothing you can really say about Kaitlyn that explains how much she will be missed. She’s been the attitude of the team for at least three years now.”
As far as pitching goes, Booher will most likely step into that role next season. The freshman, who went from second base to shortstop as the season progressed, pitched a few varsity games this season and showed good signs of what’s to come. Her speed is her strength right now, which can often overpower batters.
“If she can get her accuracy down, she’ll be very difficult to deal with,” Kasten said. “She has the ability to be the combination of Samantha Barmore (who used to play for Henry County and now pitches for Georgetown College) and Foree, and that combination will be very, very dangerous.”
Aside from Booher, the Ladycats will return a core group of players that look to add a fourth straight 31st District title and make more noise in the 8th Region tournament. Key returners will include this year’s starters: Clark (freshman, first base), Macie New (freshman, second base), Booher (freshman, shortstop/pitcher), Krista DeBurger (seventh grade, third base), Allison Vaughn (eighth grade, catcher), Powell (sophomore, shortstop/left field), Veronica Hornback (seventh grade, right field) and Smith (outfield/designated hitter). It will be a deadly combination that will put a scare into the heart’s of 8th Region opponents.
“We might be missing some leadership next year, but they have the potential to be better next year with another year of experience behind them,” Kasten said. “If they want it bad enough, they can do it.”
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