The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (16-11 overall) clung to a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh in the region semifinals against the Dixie Heights Lady Colonels (20-13) at Beechwood. But the Bluebirds could not hold on as Dixie Heights scored twice in the bottom of the seventh for a 4-3 victory to move on to the region championship against Notre Dame on Thursday.
"I think we went though some stuff this year and I'm proud of each and every one of them," said Milt Horner, Highlands coach. "They play hard. (Dixie Heights) made some good defensive plays. I'm surprised we didn't hit better."
The Bluebirds managed eight hits in 27 at-bats for a .296 average against Dixie Heights sophomore pitcher Addie Joyce. Senior Rachel Gabbard led the way going 2-for-3 with a double and run batted in. Freshman Anna Greenwell also went 2-for-3 with a double, stolen base and run scored.
"We got overanxious because we hit (Joyce) before," Horner said. "We just didn't hit (Wednesday). We didn't come through when we needed to. We had some girls on base at key times and we didn't drive them in."
Junior Taylar Lorenzen gave Highlands a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning. She blasted one over the wall in left field with one out.
"We just made sure our heads were in the game the whole way," Lorenzen said. "Next year, we'll come force and we need to hit (better) next year. But it was a good game and I'm glad I went through it with my team."
Dixie Heights batted .250 (6-for-24) against Highlands eighth grade pitcher Kennedy Baioni and freshman Gracie Schlosser. The Lady Colonels struck out just once and took advantage of nine walks.
Sophomore Brooke Albert led Dixie Heights going 3-for-4 with a double, run batted in and run scored. She singled in sophomore Ella Steczynski to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the seventh after Steczynski walked to open the inning and Highlands intentionally walked senior Kaylee McGinn. Albert later scored the game-winning run with one out when senior Jenna Slusher drew a bases-loaded walk.
McGinn went 2-for-3 with a solo home run. That tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth.
Highlands led 1-0 when Greenwell and Gabbard recorded back-to-back doubles in the top of the first. Both bounced over the wall with two out.
Dixie Heights tied the game in the bottom of the second. Freshman pinch runner Kathryn Craig scored on a wild pitch with one out.
The Lady Colonels loaded the bases later in the inning. But Schlosser came in and got senior Maggie Fields to line out to junior Piper Macke at second to end the threat.
Highlands retook the lead at 2-1 in the top of the fifth inning. Sophomore Caroline Class singled and stole second. She took third when junior Abby Rust singled and came home on a throwing error.
Highlands graduates just two seniors from the squad in Gabbard and outfielder Michaela Brown. Gabbard started six seasons and helped the Bluebirds to region championships in 2014 and 2016.