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Saturday, June 2, 2018

Rough Ending to Good Season for Highlands Softball

Bluebirds Manage Just Two Hits in Region Championship

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, The Highlands seniors come forward to accept the 9th Region Runner-Up trophy. Highlands finished the season 20-11.
The first pitches constantly came to the outside corners.

The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (20-11 overall) fell in a 4-0 loss to the Ryle Lady Raiders (23-6) in the regional championship Friday night.

Ryle owns the only fast pitch softball state championship in Northern Kentucky in 2006. The Lady Raiders are going to state for the first time since 2012.

Both teams recorded 23 at-bats, but Highlands managed just two hits for a .087 batting average against Ryle junior pitcher Hannah Bishop and Ryle recorded five hits for a .217 clip off Highlands eighth grade pitcher Gracie Schlosser. The teams played error-free softball behind them.

"Defensively, I don't know if there were that many tough plays from our side, but we've been a very strong hitting team lately so they did a good job of shutting us down," said Craig Milburn, Ryle Head Coach. "If somebody had told me we'd have got five hits, I would kind of went against that because hitting has been our strength up here."

Bishop finished with two strikeouts and no walks. Bishop retired the first 15 Highlands batters before junior Morgan Coffey led off the sixth inning with a single and wound up at second on a ground out with two out. Bishop coaxed an inning-ending ground out leaving Morgan Coffey at second.

"(Bishop) kept it outside, which in high softball a lot of times, that's effective," said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. "She came up for strikeouts. She didn't really throw it past us. We just couldn't square (the ball) up much. That's not like us. We tried some things. We moved up on the plate. We moved toward the plate on the black. We crowded it. We tried to do some things. We mixed it up. We tried some bunting. We tried some of our skill things. We just could not put the barrel on the ball until later in the game. You feel if you hold Ryle to four runs, you're going to win. We were thinking we needed six. We didn't execute at the plate. That's what it boils down to."

Junior Rachel Gabbard had the other hit for Highlands smacking a single up the middle with one out in the seventh and freshman Caroline Class ran for her. But after senior Baylie Ormes hit into a force play at second and freshman Brianna Tharps ran for her, Bishop coaxed another ground out to end the game.

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Schlosser finished with five strikeouts and six walks. Unfortunately, two of Ryle's hits left the yard for home runs. Ryle senior shortstop Maclai Branson hit a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left center to lead off the game. Highlands intentionally walked Branson her next three trips to the plate. She stole one base in the third.

"Maclai Branson is unbelievable," Coffey said. "You feel bad not letting her hit. It's just when you get a talent like that, I had to keep the game close. If she's up there four times with four home runs, that was four runs on her own. Our plan was to let her hit that first time. You saw what she did. She wasn't going to touch it again. But that's out of complete respect to her. She's been on fire this year simply fun to watch. We just didn't want to watch it (Friday)."

The game made it into the fifth inning before lightning occurred in the area forcing a weather delay. Ryle had two out at that point. The Raiders loaded the bases when the game resumed, but did not score.

"They tend to lose focus," Coach Coffey said. "That's the issue we've had. We're really young. Through the tournament, we stayed focused. If you put a little distraction in there, you can see what happens. I'm not blaming it on that."

Bishop singled to start the sixth. With one out, Ryle eighth grade left fielder Grace Morgan hit the first pitch over the left field wall to put the Lady Raiders up 3-0 scoring freshman pinch runner Kaylee Lindsey in front of her.

Senior Madeline Morgan scored the last Ryle run in the seventh. She led off the inning with a walk. After Ryle loaded the bases with none out, Bishop hit a sacrifice fly to left to score her.

Highlands graduates nine seniors. The Bluebirds still won their fourth 36th District championship in five years and made it back to the region championship after losing in the region quarterfinals last year. Highlands finished 12-18 last year.

"It's nice to know when we started in sixth grade, we were the base runners for the varsity team," said Maleah Abner, Highlands senior. "Now to see that all of the effort, blood, sweat and tears that we've put in is finally paying off. Early in the season, we were like fifth or sixth in the Northern Kentucky rankings. Now, we're number two. We just wanted to be able to show everybody that we weren't who we thought we were. We were the underdogs. But we've worked out tails off to get where we are."

Abner graduated along with Rebecca Breen, Josie Daley, Brooke Dill, Alyssa Dixon, Ella Griewe, Ella Grimm, Liz Mairose and Ormes. Daley played big roles in helping Highlands win region championship in 2014 and 2016. Dill also had a huge role on the 2016 region championship team.

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