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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Birds Cruise in Region Semi-Final

Softball Bluebirds Advance Back to Region Championship Game

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior Rachel Gabbard ends the 9th Region semifinal with a grand slam against St. Henry in the bottom of the fifth inning. Highlands won 13-0 in five innings to advance to the region championship game.
Games like this can bite you if you let the guard down coming off a tight one the previous day.

The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (20-10 overall) found itself in that situation in the 9th Region semi-final match-up against the 34th District champion St. Henry Lady Crusaders (17-18) Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Park in Newport. The Bluebirds took care of the Boone County Rebels, 2-1 in 10 innings on Monday and came in hoping to make sure this game turned out as lopsided as many expected.

Highlands did not disappoint. The Bluebirds scored five runs in the second inning to go up 6-0 and finished off the Lady Crusaders, 13-0 in five innings to make it back to the region championship for the fourth time in five seasons.

Highlands is scheduled to face the Ryle Lady Raiders (23-5) back at Veterans Memorial on Thursday at 6 p.m. for the region championship. Ryle beat Notre Dame, 9-2 earlier in the day.

Highlands again played error-free defense behind eighth grade pitcher Gracie Schlosser. Schlosser struck out three, walked just one and held St. Henry to 5-of-18 for a .278 batting clip.

"We expected them to come into (Tuesday) intense. That's still hard to do after a game like (Monday) going 10 innings with a really good team. It's hard to keep your focus," said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. "But they did a pretty good job. It took us a while to get going. Our defense has been pretty solid. Gracie has been pitching lights out. We finally starting putting the bat on the ball a little bit. We've been working on putting the ball in play more rather than swinging to drive it. The girls are starting to take advantage of that. We knew St. Henry was going to fight. They're well-coached. They're scrappy. They're going to fight you to the end so we knew we had to score a lot and score early or they were going to backdoor us there. I was glad the girls went in, took care of business and finished the job."

Senior right fielder Cameron Bier led St. Henry going 2-for-2. All five hits were singles for the Lady Crusaders. Highlands outfielders Brooke Dill in center, sophomore Abby Rust in right field and junior Morgan Coffey in left made sure balls did not reach the gap for extra-base hits. Sophomore Piper Macke has also played outfield some this post-season.

"It's paying off because every hit counts," Morgan Coffey said. "We're all fast enough to cover the whole outfield, which is good. I know if I can't get to it, Brooke can. If Brooke can't, Piper can. It's important at this time of the year to keep it in front and not let it hit the grass."

On the other side, St. Henry sophomore pitcher Kaycee Fogt struggled with consistency walking nine Highlands batters, hitting another and striking out five. Highlands hit .300 (6-for-20) against Fogt, stole six bases and took advantage of three Crusader errors.

Leadoff hitter Anna Greenwell drew three bases on balls and scored all three times with sophomore Taylar Lorenzen walking twice and getting hit by a pitch on her way to two runs for Highlands. Seniors Liz Mairose and Josie Daley recorded two walks each.

Rust broke out in a big way for the Bluebirds going 2-for-4 with two runs batted in and two runs scored. She added two stolen bases.

"It really is especially with me because I've been going through a slump," Rust said. "It's just very important to listen to the coaches with what they have to say and just have so much confidence in yourself to get those big hits that score the runs."

Morgan Coffey and junior Rachel Gabbard had the other two Highlands hits. Gabbard went 2-for-4 with a double, six runs batted in and her grand slam in the bottom of the fifth with one out forced the run-ruling. Morgan Coffey went 2-for-3 with a run scored, a double and three RBI.

"We have a lot of speed and we have a lot of really good base runners," Coach Coffey said. "That's one thing we're blessed with. We even have really good base runners with speed that are on the bench that we can pull in. That's why we're focused so much on getting on base because once we get on base, we know we can score runs because of the speed that we do have. I thought we did a good job. We have a couple girls struggling a little bit who I'm sure will be there when we need them. We'll be okay, I think."

Highlands added two runs in the fourth when Morgan Coffey singled home pinch runner Ella Griewe and Addie Mack. Then in the bottom of the fifth with a 9-0 lead, Daley, Lorenzen and Greenwell drew three straight walks and freshman Caroline Class ran for Daley. Class, Lorenzen and Greenwell scored on Gabbard's grand slam.

Highlands has won the region championship twice in Coach Coffey's six years as head coach. The Bluebirds beat Ryle, 8-1 in the region championship two years ago. Highlands also won the region crown in 2014. The Bluebirds then went 1-2 in the state tournament both times.

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