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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mason's perfect game helps Highlands back to semifinals



Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands eighth-grader Miranda Mason winds up and delivers in Monday's 9th Region Quarterfinal contest against Covington Holy Cross. Mason threw the first perfect game in school history in the 14-0 Highlands win.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – The Highlands Ladybirds softball team hope to be in this position more down the road.

Highands (24-11) came into Monday’s 9th Region quarterfinal tournament as heavy favorites against the Covington Holy Cross Lady Indians (13-20). They showed it by run-ruling the visitors, 14-0 in five innings to advance to the semifinals for the second straight year and third time since 2008.

Highlands has won 16 in a row and beat Holy Cross for the third time this year. The Ladybirds beat the Lady Indians, 13-1 on March 30 in the Uncle Pete Noll Invitational and 11-0 in five innings on May 8.

“(Holy Cross) is absolutely better than they played (Monday),” said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. “They have a lot of girls that are going to scrap. They’re going to be around for a couple years because they’re young. That’s what happens in high school. It comes and goes with talent. It was important for us to get on the gas pedal early because there are no losses in the 9th Region Tournament. If you lose, you go home. You can’t play around and let teams hang around because you never know what can happen.”

Highlands takes on Boone County (21-7) in the semifinals at 6 p.m. on Tuesday back at Northern Kentucky University. The Ladybirds lost to the Lady Rebels twice during the regular season. The scores were 6-3 on March 30 in the Uncle Pete Noll Invitational and 10-3 on April 21. The winner takes on either Conner or Notre Dame in the title game at 5:30 p.m. on May 29.

But those losses came before Highlands cracked down on mental errors. That’s been a huge key in the winning streak.

“When a coach gives you instructions, you have to take it, not get mad at them and learn from it,” said Rachel Gabbard, Highlands seventh-grader. “It’s like looking (a runner) back. That can lose a game for us.”

The huge storyline for this game was another stellar pitching performance by eighth-grader Miranda Mason backed up by solid defense. Mason threw the first perfect game in school history retiring all 15 Holy Cross batters.

“She’s been incredible,” Coffey said. “We told her all she has to do is throw strikes and we’ll hit and play defense behind her. We did (Monday).”

The Highlands offense exploded at the plate with nine hits, nine walks. The Ladybirds also took advantage of two Holy Cross errors. They scored four in each of the first two innings before adding six in the third.

“The older girls come into games prepared acting like we’re playing Notre Dame or some other top team,” said Payton Leighty, Highlands junior. “That way we can’t take any days off. The no-tolerance policy (on mental errors) is always in effect. One mistake and you’re out (of the game). That keeps you playing your best.”

Ashley Grosser and Brennah Dutcher had two hits to lead Highlands. Teammate Kendall Turner doubled and Haley Coffey recorded a stolen base. Dutcher batted in two with Gabbard batting in three and Turner batting in two. Turner also walked three times.

Highlands saw five players score at least two runs. Coffey and Turner scored three runs with Whitney Quillen, Grosser and Leighty scoring twice.

A win for the Ladybirds would mark the first semifinal win in school history. The 2008 team lost to Ryle (7-0) in the semifinals and the Ladybirds lost to eventual region champ Notre Dame (3-0) in last year’s semifinals.

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