|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Shelby Graybill (right) slides under the tag in a recent game against Mason County. The Ladybirds are 7-6 on the season.|
That has described the way the past few seasons have gone for the Highlands Ladybirds softball team (7-6 overall). They start off slow, but finish strong.
Highlands started the season 1-4 including a few run-rulings in Elizabethtown. But the Ladybirds have won six of their last eight games including a 6-3 win at Greenwood on Thursday. Greenwood won the state championship in 2012 going a perfect 44-0.
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"(Greenwood) is very young but they're very athletic," said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. "Their defense was spectacular. They hit the ball decent. We played pretty well. We started turning the corner a bit in the Bullitt East game. We got acquainted to playing these better teams and put the bat on the ball more. Our defense has really started to solidify."
Several players came over from basketball and it took some time to get the softball legs down. Those players were junior outfielder Taylor Baioni, senior shortstop Haley Coffey, sophomore Brooke Dill and freshmen Chloe Jansen and Morgan Coffey.
The Ladybirds have played just four games against teams in the northern three Kentucky counties winning all four. That includes a 15-0 run-ruling of rival Newport Central Catholic and a 7-1 win over Ryle in the Uncle Pete Noll Classic in 9th Region play.
But that changes for the most part for the rest of the season. The only teams not from the northern three Kentucky counties on the schedule the rest of the way are Mason (Ohio), Woodford County, Scott County and Owensboro Apollo.
Highlands hopes to benefit from facing the tough competition. One of the losses came to undefeated Bullitt East. The Ladybirds faced a Louisville commit in sophomore pitcher Taylor Roby. The Ladybirds lost that game 4-3 off a costly error.
"(Roby) was very similar to (former Notre Dame pitcher) Haylee Smith in that she had a lot of speed," Haley Coffey said. "She tried to power it by you like Haylee Smith did. She had some movement. But those are the pitchers we're usually good at hitting. But now we're having trouble with the off-speed, junk ball pitchers. I think that will help in the long run because if we make it out of our region, the better teams we'll face will pitch with that kind of speed."
Highlands saw all but two position players return this season. The Ladybirds needed to find a new third baseman for the graduated Whitney Quillen. But freshman Zoie Barth stepped into that role well to complement the experienced infield of Haley Coffey, freshman second baseman Rachel Gabbard, senior first baseman Brennah Dutcher, senior catcher Shelby Graybill and senior pitcher Bailey Spencer.
Graybill has returned to her old self in recent games smacking a couple home runs. Dutcher came through with a two-run single in the win over Greenwood.
Spencer said the seniors have made sure the younger players take the small things serious. When swinging the bat for example, an inch up or down could make the difference between a pop-up and a sharply hit ball.
"We definitely reinforce (little things)," Spencer said. "But we also tell them not to think too much when you're in the box because sometimes they'll overthink everything as opposed to just getting up there and hitting the ball. Trying to move the runner is your job. They've gotten a lot better."
Spencer has continued her consistency on the mound. The Thomas More College commit has two shutouts on the season Spencer said her drop ball has come together well to help against tougher teams.
Highlands is still working on a back-up pitcher with assistant coach Michelle Caoetti, a former University of Connecticut pitcher. The candidates are Jansen, Ella Greiwe and Becca Breen.
"We're working on getting (those three) some innings trying to figure out who (the back-up) is going to be," Coach Coffey said. "All of them are far off from being near Bailey's level, but they're all working hard. We're going at it every day trying to get them better. We hope Bailey stays healthy and we won't have to run them out there when it counts for another year."
Highlands takes on Bishop Brossart on Tuesday. Game time is 5 p.m.