BEREA — Aside from flaunting its own flame-flinging ace, Scott County ran a regular-season gauntlet that should have alleviated all trepidation about the pitching it would face from any of the three top-10 teams in the 11th Region softball final four.
Lafayette sophomore Trinity Bridges simply was at her best, and the Cards a notch or two beneath theirs, in a 5-0 semifinal triumph for the Generals on Monday evening at Madison Southern High School.
Bridges blanked SC (16-18) on two hits, striking out 15 against only three walks. And the Cardinals didn’t have to feel lonely. One night later, Bridges fanned 14 from season-long nemesis Lexington Catholic to give No. 7 Lafayette (30-8) a 2-0 win and its first region title since 2011.
“She wasn’t throwing anything crazy, just fast (enough),” SC coach Billy James said. “She did a good job. We struggled with pitchers that speed this year.”
Eighteen of Scott County’s 34 games were played against teams ranked in the top 25 of the most recent statewide coaches’ poll.
Bridges was only the fourth pitcher in that who’s-who to shut out the Cards, joining Claire Lehmkuhler of Woodford County, Tessa Juett of Madison Southern and Lacey Osborne of Anderson County.
Delaney Vaughn’s double in the fourth inning and Emma Price’s single to lead off the sixth were SC’s only base knocks.
“We’ve got to hit better obviously. That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year,” said James, whose team batted .271 and averaged just over 4.5 runs per game.
Despite having atypical trouble commanding the strike zone, SC eighth-grader Ada Little matched Bridges blank for blank until the fourth.
That’s also the inning when the Cardinals had their best chance to get on the board and put the Generals on their heels. After Vaughn’s one-out double to the center field wall, Little battled back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk.
Courtesy runners Kelbi Hastings and Belle Banner each moved up a base thanks to a passed ball. Bridges earned the second out by coaxing Kenley Ison into a pop-up in foul ground on the first base side.
She then fired a pitch to the backstop, one that's closer to home plate at Madison Southern that it is at most diamonds in the region. The ball also took a fortuitous bounce to Lafayette catcher Nora Mack, and that discouraged Hastings from making a break for what might have been a 50/50 play.
Mack cradled a foul tip from Ellie Price for strike three to silence the threat. She also fueled Lafayette’s subsequent rally by drawing a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth, followed by another from Claire Cronan.
“I don’t even know how many (walks) we had. She was just off today,” James said of Little, who was the Cards’ starting pitcher in all but one game and pitched a staggering 188 of the Cards’ 204 innings. “She’s been off for a while, and we’ve gotten away with it just with the strikeouts. We rode her until we could ride her no more.”
Kaileigh Franklin-Brooks beat out a slow roller in the hole between shortstop and third base to load the bases with nobody out. That stacked the deck for Olivia Planck’s sacrifice fly to Makiah Jackson in right, breaking the stalemate.
Jenna Wells plated the second run with a leisurely grounder to Lexie Roby at second base, leaving the senior’s only judicious play at first. The senior Roby also backhanded a line drive by Rylie Grantz to escape the inning and save at least one additional run.
“That was (really) a two-run ballgame, which it shouldn’t even have been, because those two runs were from walks,” James said. “We had every chance. We should have been up 1-0 early in that game before they got the two.”
Little, who matched a season-high with 13 strikeouts in SC’s 4-1 quarterfinal victory over Franklin County, struck out eight from Lafayette to give her 282 on the rookie season, good for No. 7 overall in the state. She walked six.
Bridges struck out the side in the fifth, and Little bounced back with two whiffs and a 1-2-3 inning.
It remained 2-0 when Price lined a base hit into left to christen the sixth. District tournament MVP Kaylie Wise, who entered the game with 10 playoff RBI, popped out to Bridges. Price was erased on a fielder’s choice before Bridges struck out Little swinging to slam the door.
“I think age and just experience,” James said of SC’s quiet bats. “Even the older girls today, our two seniors, they weren’t on it.”
Lafayette logged three unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth to douse SC’s flickering hopes. Mack again led off with a walk before SC mishandled Cronan’s sacrifice bunt.
Little notched two quick outs before Bridges’ single scored two and Wells matched it to knock home another.
Bridges struck out the final three in the seventh.
Ison (second-inning error) and Roby (walk in the third) were the Cardinals’ only base runners through the early frames. Little left five Generals stranded during that scoreless stretch.
“We just lost to what was at one point this year the No. 1 ranked team in the state,” James said.
Scott County was making its 17th consecutive appearance in the region semifinal round. It is only the Cards’ fifth loss prior to the title game in that stretch.
Little and Emma Price were named to the all-tournament team.
“Overall, I just told them after our first few games, I didn’t know if we’d win districts,” James said. “We won districts, won our first region game. That’s something to build on. We lose two starters. It’s time to go next year. We’ll get back to work tomorrow.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.