|Bluebirds Finish Season with 28 Wins|
|PHOTO: Cody Skaggs, www.codyskaggs.myportfolio.com. Highlands sophomore pitcher Kennedy Baioni (9) fires to the plate in a recent game while junior shortstop Anna Greenwell (left) gets in position.|
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Down 5-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning with two out and runners on first and third, Highlands Bluebirds sophomore Kennedy Baioni connected on an 0-1 pitch from Cooper Lady Jaguars sophomore pitcher Kendall Blau. But the path the ball took did not work out for the Bluebirds.
Cooper freshman second baseman Ava Scott snagged it for the final out of the inning. Cooper (22-13 overall) added two runs in the top of the seventh on the way to a 7-3 victory over the Bluebirds (28-10) in the 9th Region Quarterfinals on Saturday at Winkler Field. This marks the first time Highlands lost in the first round of region tournament since a 5-1 loss to Dixie Heights on May 29, 2017.
"If Kennedy's line drive is a foot higher, it's a two-run double and it's tied. It's a different game," said Milt Horner, Highlands Head Coach. "They hit the ball better than we did. But we fought back and kept them where they were."
A slow start did not help the cause. Cooper led 4-0 after three innings scoring three times in the third inning while Highlands managed one base runner in the second inning when freshman Michelle Barth and seventh grader Camryn Markus ran for her.
The Lady Jaguars batted .391 (9-for-23) and committed no errors to .269 (7-for-26) and four errors for the Bluebirds. Cooper scored four unearned runs in the victory. The Lady Jaguars also had four doubles to no extra-base hits for the Bluebirds.
Highlands especially could not stop Cooper's lead-off hitter in sophomore left fielder Amber Chaney. Chaney went 1-for-1 reaching four times once on a walk and twice on Highlands errors. She scored all four times.
Junior shortstop Dylan Scott did the most damage at the plate for Cooper. She went 3-for-4 with three doubles, two runs scored and three runs batted in. Junior Gweny Wessling and Ava Scott had two hits each. Wessling added two RBI.
In their final games, Highlands seniors Caroline Class and Bri Tharps both went 2-for-3. Class scored twice and Tharps batted in two.
The two did their part in the rally in the sixth inning. Freshman Bailey Markus singled and Class laid down a nice bunt single. With one out, Tharps singled in Bailey Markus before Barth singled home Class. Horner pointed out that junior first baseman Gracie Schlosser hit the ball hard three times Dylan Scott at shortstop.
"That's a really good team," Horner said. "I think they have a really legit shot to win the region and a legit shot to make some noise downstate. Give them a lot of credit."
Baioni (14-6) pitched all but the first three batters of the fifth inning when seventh grader Kaitlyn Dixon came in. Baioni struck out five and Blau struck out eight. Cooper had two walks to one for Highlands. But both the Cooper walks came to lead off the first and third on their way to runs.
"We can't do that," Horner said. "Kennedy is learning to pitch in big games."
Highlands graduates Tharps, Class and Julianna Shonkwiler. The Bluebirds won three district championships and drove to the region title game when Tharps and Class were freshmen.
"(Tharps and Class) have given so much to the program," Horner said. "I'm certainly going to miss them. But we're actually a young team. I just hope we can learn, grow and come back even stronger."
Highlands will build around junior shortstop Anna Greenwell, Barth, Baioni, Schlosser and the likes of the Markus sisters and sophomore Carly Cramer next season. Four seventh graders saw some varsity action including starting outfielder Payton Brown.