State softball first round: No. 1 Ballard bests Golden Eagles after big second inning

·5 min read

Jun. 4—LEXINGTON — A top-ranked and undefeated team seldom needs a wake-up call.

Ballard entered the state tournament having successfully navigated 35 games this season without a loss. The Bruins have cast away any pitfalls that come with a brighter spotlight and kept the record spotless.

A comeback victory against Male in the Seventh Region championship and few more close shaves during the final weeks have given Ballard a renewed focus as it chases a state championship.

Bruins coach Alan Jones said the team doesn't talk about records and rankings. The opportunity to win four games over the next two weekends has their full attention.

"If you are going to win a championship, you need to have a game like we did against Male," Jones said. "It was the first game where we came from behind. It was good that we had to do it. Our focus isn't on our record. It's one game at a time. Next Friday, we will focus on our (quarterfinal) opponent."

Ballard used a big second inning to propel it to a 10-0 five-inning victory over Johnson Central in the opening round of the state tournament at John Cropp Stadium.

Golden Eagles coach Joey Estep said his team looked forward to the daunting challenge of facing the No. 1 team in the state. He wanted his team to start the contest with a relaxed state of mind.

"Before the game started, I told the girls we came into this game as underdogs," Estep said. "I tried to take some the pressure off them in this situation. I felt like Ballard would be the team with pressure. It was a tough draw with the No. 1 team."

Estep witnessed a stellar start from the Golden Eagles. After they went down in order on strikes in the first, Johnson Central starter Madelyn Vaughn followed suit with a 1-2-3 frame. She even added a strikeout.

"I felt like we were pretty calm," Estep said. "(On Friday night), we went over the scouting report. We showed up here and got some cuts in at the indoor facility. The girls seemed like they were collected and ready to play. We started out well, but that second inning snowballed on us. They strung together some hits and we made some mistakes."

"I am just excited about our season," he added. "We were region champions again. I am very proud of these girls."

Ballard's offense came alive to begin the second inning. A single and a two-base throwing error quickly put runners at second and third base.

Sydney Blair answered the scoring opportunity with a base hit to bring both runners home. The same scenario faced Eden Jessie when she stepped to the plate two batters later. She delivered the same result: a two-RBI single.

Emory Donaldson drove in two tallies with her 15th long ball of the season later in the inning. Alyssa Simmons and Macy McCoy added RBI singles and the Bruins posted one more with a groundout to complete the nine-run frame.

"I told them we were kind of flat," Jones said about the conversation with his team after their first at-bat. "At tournament time, everybody is good. We don't want to underestimate them. Let's get the bats going and get two or three runs. Then we just opened it up. We've played like we have played all year. We were aggressive with running, stealing and bunting. (Johnson Central) is a good team. Their pitcher was good. We finally started focusing."

Johnson Central (25-14) responded after the Ballard offensive surge. The Golden Eagles had only one hit, a second-inning double from Clara Blair.

The Bruins only dented the scoreboard one more time. Mikayla Milby drove in Donaldson with a single in the fourth stanza.

"When we came off the field (after the second inning), we huddled in front of the dugout," Estep said. "I told them we can't quit. We have to keep fighting. We did that, but it wasn't quite enough. I am thankful for each and every one of these girls, their parents and our school system. We have a good program, and I am happy to be a part of it."

Johnson Central also had to deal with Ballard starter Brooke Gray. The junior entered the game with 340 strikeouts and added 10 more to her total in four innings of work. Gray lowered her 0.86 ERA and improved her record to 28-0.

Jones acknowledged that the Bruins didn't need much run production this season with Gray in the circle. He wants his team to change that mindset at the state tournament.

"Sometimes we get complacent because she is so good," Jones said. "Our focus in this tournament is not to beat teams by three or four runs. We want six or seven. We are a good hitting team. Having the best pitcher in the state, it takes pressure off the defense."

"Brooke is amazing," he continued. "We have won eight games with her by a score of 1-0. When we were down against Male, 7-3, she kept us in the game. They didn't get a hit or a score in the last four innings."

Donaldson was 2 of 3 and scored twice for Ballard (36-0). McCoy added two hits and courtesy runner, Mya Nelson, crossed the plate twice after Simmons reached base.

The Bruins advance to play Daviess County on Friday in the state quarterfinals.

J. CENTRAL 000 00 — 0 1 3

BALLARD 090 1X — 10 9 1

Vaughn and M. Delong; Gray, Carter (5) and Simmons. W—Gray. L—Vaughn. 2B—Blair (JC), McCoy (B). HR—Donaldson (B).

(606) 326-2654 — msparks@dailyindependent.com