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Early burst presses Lady Cats by Salem

Early burst presses Lady Cats by Salem
Early burst presses Lady Cats by Salem
North Harrison's Isabella Gerlach earns a stolen base, sliding past Salem's Karley Sweeney in the Lady Cats' 7-2 win. Photo by Wade Bell
Wade Bell, Sports Writer

The last few years the North Harrison softball team has struggled, and, while the Lady Cats did their best to hide their discouragement and frustration, it was obvious they weren’t happy with their play. That has changed this year, with North Harrison getting off to its best start in several years, an 11-1 record, following the team’s most recent win last Wednesday against visiting Salem in an important Mid-Southern Conference game.
‘It’s how aggressive we’re playing,’ coach Haley Book said. ‘They are being pushed beyond their limits, and I think that’s new to them and I think that is making them a better team all around. It’s just seeing how far they can go and what they’re capable of. It’s like changing the standard. I feel like they’ve just been happy with being average, and this year we implement in practice every day that you have to strive to be great. We have their potential set so high that they are just hungry for it. I think that’s the biggest thing, just changing their mindset.’
That aggressiveness showed up early against the Lady Lions. Pitcher Ashton Blackburn began by striking out Lexi Garloch. A walk followed, but the next two batters never made it to first. Then, in the bottom of the inning, North Harrison put the hammer down with its bats.
Isabella Gerlach walked and went to second on a passed ball to Kaitlynn Crone. Crone then reached base following a Salem error. Gerlach scored when Andrea Ness grounded out. With two outs, Blackburn doubled, scoring Crone. Kendall Beyerle then fired a screamer over the left-field fence for two runs, and the Lady Cats had a 4-0 lead.
‘That is something we’ve been great at, just coming out and setting the tone for every week the very first inning,’ Book said. ‘We are very aggressive at the plate. We put pressure on the defense, and we run. We make them play to see what they can do. I think that makes it a complete game-changer.’
Salem got one of those runs back in the top of the second when Kenedie Brough singled to start the inning. Madison Wilcox struck out, but Ashton Thompson followed with a double to score Brough. Blackburn continued to cause Salem problems, however, striking out Sierra Bowling and Callie Backherms to end the at-bat.
North Harrison put two more runs on the board in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Gerlach smashed a double off the fence. Crone followed with a single that scored Gerlach for a 5-1 lead. With two outs, Crone stole second. Emily Ingle drilled a single to score Crone, and the Lady Cats’ lead jumped to 6-1.
Neither team scored in the third inning, and Salem blanked in the top of the fourth. In the bottom of the fourth, however, North Harrison scored again. With one out, Gerlach singled and stole second. With two outs and Ness at the plate, Gerlach went to third on a wild pitch. Ness walked and stole second. Gerlach scored on the steal, and North Harrison’s lead went to 7-1.
Salem scored one more time, in the top of the fifth, on two-out, back-to-back doubles by Lexi Garloch and Mackenzie Underwood that plated Garloch.
In the sixth and seventh innings, Blackburn faced just six Salem batters, with the Lady Cats securing the 7-2 win.
‘They love winning, so they’re responding well,’ Book said. ‘We are sound defensively. Our defense is strong. We’re tough. We keep balls in front of us. Ashton did a great job pitching. Defensively, we put ourselves in a great position to win.’
North Harrison’s bats didn’t do so bad either, as the Lady Cats swatted nine hits. Blackburn struck out 10 Salem batters, walked one and hit one. North Harrison had no errors and left five runners on base.
‘It’s putting that pressure on the defensive team and see what they can handle,’ Book said. ‘That is something we’ve worked on since day one of practice. I think that has a huge part of our mindset going in offensively with their hitting.’
Salem finished with four hits, with two going for extra bases. From the pitching circle, Garloch struck out one North Harrison batter and walked one, while Maycie Gilliatt struck out two and walked three. The Lady Lions had two errors and left four runners on base.
Book said her team still has some things to improve on, one of those being knowing when to swing the bat and when not to swing it.
‘I felt like they were swinging at pitches out of the strike zone,’ she said. ‘We have talked about being disciplined at the plate. Also, in practice we’re working to find out what is their money pitch. What is something we can make them drive and having a plan when they go up there, that type of approach. What kind of pitch can I crush? That’s what I’m looking for.
‘In the fifth inning, we got a little complacent with the score and we didn’t change our approach,’ Book said. ‘So, that’s something we’re still working on.’

Salem 010 010 0 ‘ 2 4 2
North Harrison 420 100 x ‘ 7 9 0
W ‘ Blackburn, L ‘ Garloch.
2B ‘ Blackburn (NH), Thompson (S), Gerlach (NH), Underwood (S); HR ‘ Beyerle (NH).
Records: North Harrison 11-1, Salem 7-3.