Do you appreciate this story? Please consider a small donation to help fund our content. We rely solely on support from our advertising partners, providing our content for free. Any amount helps. Click here to donate!The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (5-1 overall) took care of business in Winchester then made it to Lexington watch the boys basketball team win the state championship.
"I'm so happy for that basketball team," said Milt Horner, Highlands Head Coach. "That was great for the school in general. With what everyone has gone through this year to see them accomplish that, (senior point guard) Sam (Vinson) was unbelievable."
Horner said he drove to Lexington and took a picture of John Cropp Stadium on the University of Kentucky campus, which is where the state softball tournament takes place. He posted it on the team's group chat before the basketball game for motivation.
"I think we had 10 or 12 of the softball players at the game. There were a bunch of baseball players there too," Horner said. "(Highlands baseball head coach) Jeremy (Baioni) and I talked and said this is a tough one to top as a school. But the girls were really excited for the basketball team. I could take no credit for scheduling a tournament close to Lexington on Sweet 16 weekend because I did it in the fall. But it sure worked out well."
Highlands beat the Pike County Central Lady Hawks (1-3) by a 13-1 count in five innings before besting the Corbin Lady Redhounds (1-4) by a 14-1 score. The Bluebirds moved to 4-1 away from Winkler Field with the victories.
"I think that they're really starting to understand what it takes to win," Horner said. "Obviously, this team is a very different team than two years because we lost two classes of seniors. It takes a little bit of time for them to come together even though a bunch of them did play on the 2019 team. There are different leaders, different dynamics, different everything."
Highlands sophomore pitcher Carly Cramer (2-1) started the first game against Pike County Central throwing one inning striking out one while allowing two hits and a walk. Seventh grader Kaitlyn Dixon threw the other three innings striking out four to go with three walks, three hits and an earned run.
The Bluebirds batted .444 (12-for-27) in the game. Cramer also dazzled at the plate with her first home run and second triple of the season going 2-for-2 with three runs batted in and a run scored. Senior Bri Tharps also went 2-for-2 with a run scored. Freshman Michelle Barth and junior Anna Greenwell both went 2-for-3 with three runs batted in each. Greenwell also walked and scored two runs.
"I think we're really coming together," Cramer said. "(Coach Horner) said this was the first time to win an (in-season) tournament in 22 years. We're just hitting (the ball) hard and finding the (open) spots. It's going right where we want it to go."
Sophomore Kennedy Baioni pitched the second game against Corbin moving to 3-0 on the season. Baioni struck out three, walked one and allowed two hits.
Highlands batted .448 (13-for-29) in this game. Tharps went 2-for-4 with a double, two RBI and a run scored. Baioni, Cramer and Barth all went 2-for-3. Baioni hit her first home run this season to go with three RBI and a run scored. Cramer doubled, scored twice and had one RBI. Dixon batted in two with seventh grader Payton Brown scoring twice.
"We have four different girls who have hit a home run already," Horner said. "I don't think we've ever had that in a full season. It speaks to the hard work the girls have put in to get better."
Highlands plays at Bellevue (0-3) on Monday in the first 36th District game of the season. Game time is 5 p.m. in Bellevue.
Highlands 5, Lexington Henry Clay 4:
The Bluebirds (3-1 overall) led 4-1 entering the seventh inning. But the Blue Devils (1-3) hit a three-run home run to tie it before Highlands won in the bottom of the eighth with a bases-loaded walk.
"It shows a lot about our mental toughness. We understand it's a process," said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands Head Coach. "We know it's seven innings. We've already talked about how you can't stall. You can't dribble the ball out. You can't take a knee. You have to get all three outs to end the ballgame. The toughest three outs in baseball are those last three. We've shown that two of the four games we've had. But it really shows how resilient the guys are and how they're willing to fight for each other. It's really good to see."
This marked the second game of the Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament in two days at Sayre. Highlands originally had three games scheduled including two Saturday. But the Bluebirds only played one because of the state basketball tournament.
Highlands hit .276 (8-for-29) to .111 (3-for-27) for Henry Clay. But Junior Joey Howard went 2-for-3 with the three-run home run and solo blast in the second inning for four runs batted in and two runs scored for the Blue Devils.
"We just had to work the count a lot," said Jack Schneider, Highlands junior third baseman. "We had to get ahead. We had to make sure they threw strikes first and make sure we were patient in the box. We had to hit our best pitch and not their best pitch."
The Bluebirds did not have any extra-base hits. But they took advantage of five walks and four Henry Clay errors.
"Having close games like that, we're one or two key hits away from blowing them wide open," Baioni said. "When we're in one of those situations where we get a base runner because of an error or we're able to advance because of an error, we get a big two-out hit, we can score two runs on that and we have a chance to blow some of these games open and close them out a little bit better. But Henry Clay has good arms. I just like the way our kids battled and figured out a way to win at the end when we lost some momentum."
Senior Owen Carris had another good outing for Highlands pitching the first six innings striking out 10, walking one to go with one hit and one earned run. Sophomore Jack Hendrix threw the next two innings to pick up the win. Hendrix struck out five, walked one and allowed two hits.
Highlands travels back to Lexington on Tuesday. The Bluebirds play at Frederick Douglass (3-1) at 5:15 p.m.