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Lady Cats grind way to sectional

Lady Cats grind way to sectional
Lady Cats grind way to sectional
The North Harrison Lady Cats celebrate after winning the Class 3A sectional with a 4-2 decision over Salem last week. Photos by Brian Smith (click for larger version)

It’s commonly said that the final three outs are the toughest to get.
In Thursday’s Class 3A Sectional 30 softball championship game, the final two happened so fast that celebration was hesitant at first. Then the smiles, hugs and photo memories began after a double play led North Harrison to knocking off Salem, 4-2, for the title.
‘I don’t think I’ve been happier to win a game in my life,’ said North Harrison senior catcher Amber Longest. ‘All three of our games were stressful, but we overcame all of it.’
With the bases packed with Salem runners in the top of the seventh, Lady Lions pinch hitter Brooklyn Miller sent a liner off North Harrison pitcher Alyssa McAfee toward the first-base line. Lady Cat Brooke Lamon snagged the hot shot at first base and beat Brittney Walker back to the bag for the game-ending double play.
‘It’s amazing,’ said North Harrison senior Miranda Whelan, who pitched six innings for the win. ‘We’ve worked so hard and practiced from the very beginning saying we were going to come out and kick some butt, and we did.’
The double play was one of many sensational defensive plays during the course of the tournament that helped put North Harrison above the competition.
In the course of the championship game, third baseman Melanie Johnson ranged to make several plays, Whelan caught a blistering line drive back to her in fourth inning and left fielder Bri Lampton tracked down a long fly in foul territory. They were among the highlights to go with the double play, slowing the Salem offense.
‘It’s a big moment,’ North Harrison coach John Lambert said. ‘(Pitchers) Miranda and Alyssa (McAfee) were phenomenal the whole tournament. The defense was phenomenal the whole tournament. The hitting was timely. It wasn’t top to bottom the way we hoped it would be tonight, but it was good timely hitting to put the runs up we needed.’
Runs came in pairs for North Harrison in the first and fourth innings. After playing from behind in the sectional opener (Silver Creek) and semi-final (Charles-town), the Lady Cats were able to get ahead early and stay there.
‘We’ve called ourselves the ‘Comeback Cats’ lately, but it was nice to get out on top for a change,’ Longest said.
Kendra Lambert started the first inning with a single to get the offense rolling. Then, with two outs, Longest and Whelan delivered hits to nearly identical spots in center field, scoring a run each.
‘Really proud of our seniors,’ coach Lambert said. ‘Our seniors came up with the big hits to push us ahead. We got production from all nine kids, but it took three games to do it. That’s a point I made with the girls, that we were solid enough to get contributions in different areas every night.’
Salem split the lead in half when Chelsie Strong belted a solo blast over the left centerfield fence.
North Harrison, however, didn’t waiver. In the fourth, Lamon reached on an error and saw the back end of the batting order make the Lady Lions pay. Johnson and Lampton lined consecutive run-scoring singles to put North Harrison up 4-1.
Salem was able to put the ball in play but were only able to put one runner on base through six innings. The Salem bats came to life in the final frame when Morgan Hasty, Strong and Walker hit consecutive singles. The comeback threat eventually ended with the double play.
‘Salem really hit the ball hard the first time we played them,’ Lambert said. ‘We knew they would start to get hits sooner or later. But our kids played hard right to the end. I’m proud.’
Whelan recorded one strikeout for the win, while McAfee picked up the save.
‘I am so excited,’ McAfee, a senior, said after the game. ‘I’m so glad because I really feel we deserved it because we tried hard and put a lot of time in.’
McAfee said the defense helped the pitchers out a lot. ‘The time we’ve put in to get better defensively really showed this week,’ she said.
The win was a school record 25th on the season for the Class 3A No. 5-ranked Lady Cats.
‘I’m proud of them, and they know that,’ Lambert said. ‘Our goals were set higher (than sectional) this year, but we’ll see what happens. It’s a stepping stone, and we don’t want to quit now.’
North Harrison needed come-from-behind wins in the first round and semi-final matchups to reach the final.
‘As it turned out, we played three really tough games,’ Lambert said. ‘For the kids to play three straight nights against three great teams shows how ready they were.’
‘It was really tough,’ McAfee said. ‘How we came back in the first two games from being down really shows how we didn’t give up. We always fight back.’