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Lady Cats’ rally hopes dashed by late Lady Braves’ surge

Lady Cats’ rally hopes dashed by late Lady Braves’ surge
Lady Cats’ rally hopes dashed by late Lady Braves’ surge
North Harrison senior pitcher Ashton Blackburn winds up to fire a strike against Brownstown Central’s Emily Singleton in the fourth inning of the Lady Cats’ sectional semi-final matchup last Wednesday against the Lady Braves. Photo by Brandon Miniard
Brandon Miniard, Contributing Writer

Pockets of heavy rain wreaked havoc throughout Southern Indiana last Wednesday, resulting in either delays or postponements for multiple sectional tournaments in the region. One notable exception was in Scottsburg, which experienced hardly any rain as day two of the Indiana High School Athletic Association Softball Class 3A Sectional 30 commenced.

The day began with a tough semi-final matchup between the host Warriorettes and defending sectional champion Silver Creek. Despite using a walk-off homer to beat Corydon Central 5-4 on the tournament’s first day, May 24, the Lady Dragons had no more post-season magic as they fell to the Warriorettes 5-1.

Just a half-hour later, the second semifinal was set for the North Harrison Lady Cats as they confronted Brownstown Central. The Lady Cats found themselves in the semifinal after dispatching Madison Consolidated 7-3 the previous night. The Lady Braves, meanwhile, scored five runs in the first three innings to eliminate Charlestown 5-2.

While both starting pitchers posted a zero in the first inning, the Lady Braves drew first blood against Lady Cats’ starter Ashton Blackburn in the second. After retiring the first three Lady Braves’ batters, the senior right-hander watched as Rylee May crushed a pitch over the right-field fence for a no-doubt solo home run. Matters didn’t get easier for Blackburn as the defense behind her faltered in the third as an errant throw and a dropped shallow fly ball resulted in two more runs crossing, giving the Lady Braves an early 3-0 advantage.

“I think we just kind of lost focus for a minute,” Lady Cats’ skipper Haley Book said. “We just needed to take a step back and refocus, zone in on where the ball was.”

The Lady Cats didn’t lose faith as they entered the bottom of the fourth, starting when Blackburn reached on a dropped shallow flyball. Courtesy runner Annika Martin came on after Blackburn made it to third before breaking the Lady Cats onto the scoreboard by stealing home. An RBI single by senior shortstop Emily Ingle scored Andrea Ness, closing the Lady Braves’ advantage to 3-2.

While Blackburn was able to keep the Lady Braves’ bats at bay in the middle innings, the Lady Cats still needed a huge hit to try and keep their season alive. That hit came off the bat of junior left fielder Maddie Ivey, who launched a slightly outside pitch over the centerfield wall for a game-tying solo homer. The Lady Cats’ dugout and fan base erupted in a frenzy of cheers as Ivey crossed the plate, hoping the momentum had completely shifted in their favor.

“My coach got in my head and said, ‘Listen, you just need to calm down’,” Ivey said. “I just needed to be calm and stop getting down on myself.”

Unfortunately for the Lady Cats, the Lady Braves took the momentum right back in the top of the seventh, starting when Kelsey Schneider reached on a fielding error by Madison Lowe, her third miscue of the contest. An RBI double by Addyson Coomer and a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Zoe Stuckwisch helped the Lady Braves regain the lead, 5-3.

The Lady Cats made one last effort after junior centerfielder Shelby Smith shot a one-out line drive into left center, only to be gunned down trying to stretch a double into a triple. The Lady Braves soon filed out of the dugout to celebrate after senior right fielder Jenna Armstrong hit an infield popup to short, punching the Lady Braves’ ticket to the sectional final.

With the loss, the Lady Cats finished their season with a 12-14 record (5-4 MSC). Blackburn took the loss in her final career start despite going the distance, allowing five runs, one of which was earned, on nine hits. She also struck out nine and walked four. The defense behind her did not help her cause, committing four errors.

Alongside Blackburn, the Lady Cats saw the last of four additional seniors in a North Harrison uniform, including Ingle, Armstrong, Erin Spurgeon and Chelsea Schuley. This loss felt especially heavy on the heart of Spurgeon, who came into the 2021 season contemplating whether to even take part in her senior season.

“This past season has meant everything to me,” Spurgeon said. “I debated on whether I was going to play, but I’m definitely glad that I came out and played with some of my best friends. This loss definitely hurts the heart.”

The Lady Braves and the host Scottsburg Warriorettes met in the tournament finale Thursday with Scottsburg capturing the championship title, 7-2.