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Elite Eight exit for Commanderettes

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Softball team goes 2-1 in group, advances to second round

Arriving at the Class ‘A’ State Tournament as massive underdogs wasn’t something Washington County head coach Christy Baker wanted her team to focus on.

“I don’t talk to them about rankings,” she said. “We just play. We don’t care how other people judge us. We’re here to play for our team.”

Instead, the focus shifted to defying expectations. The team rebounded from a lopsided loss to finish day one of the tournament as the runners-up in its group. Coming back for day two, Baker knew her team had already done more than others thought it could. “We’re here,” she said, “and nobody expected us to be.”

 

Game 1 v. Pikeville Panthers

Making it to the second round seemed like a pipe dream after the Commanderettes were defeated 11-0 by Pikeville in the first game.

A significant amount of the damage was self-inflicted. Four runs were scored directly as a result of Washington County errors. Three miscues came in the top of the third inning that saw the Panthers score seven times.

Pikeville gave away nothing on defense, managing to finish the game without allowing a single walk or committing an error of its own.

 

 Game 2 v. Carlisle County Comets

A loss in game two would have torpedoed any chances the Commanderettes had of reaching the next round. When the Comets took the lead in the top of the first, Baker hoped the lessons learned against Pikeville would show.

“One of our major things was coming out to compete…That’s what we’ve talked about:, getting better each time, learning from our mistakes and working hard as a team.”

The response came in the second inning when a wild pitch from Carlisle County allowed Kate Taylor to cross the plate and tie the game at 1-1. The Comets got out ahead again during their next time at bat and threatened to pull away after a few more runs in the top of the fifth.

Down 5-2, and in desperate need of a rally, Washington County found its rhythm in the bottom of the sixth inning. A hard grounder to left field from Taylor allowed the first run of the comeback to score. Kate Taylor scored on the next at-bat, as Fran Taylor belted a line drive to center field. Fran Taylor scored the tying run after Abby Warner sent another shot into center field.

The Commanderettes were unable to get ahead, leaving pitcher Maddie Pettus to protect the 5-5 score going into the seventh inning. Pettus rose to the occasion, striking out one batter and setting up two pop-ups for her teammates to collect.

In the bottom of the final inning, the bases were loaded when Fran Taylor stepped up. The junior swung on the third pitch, sending a line drive to right field that allowed Rachel Smith to cross the plate for the game-winning run.

 

Game 3 v. St. Henry Crusaders

Going into a must-win game against St. Henry, that comeback against Carlisle helped provide a spark.

“It was a huge momentum twist for the team,” Baker said afterward. “It was a huge boost for them to know that they could do it; to have to fight.”

The Commanderettes took an early lead and refused to let off the gas for the rest of the game.

Pettus helped protect the lead on the mound, going seven innings against the Crusaders and striking out six batters and walking two.

On offense, consistent hitting and clever base running gave Washington County the edge. A couple of stolen bases from Taylor brought the Commanderettes total to four for the day.

A towering home run over the center field fence from Trinity Baker sealed the win. It was her fifth of the season, the most on the team.

 

Game 4 v. Green County Dragons

The last time Washington County played Green County, the Dragons won 19-0 and knocked the Commanderettes out of the 5th Region Tournament.

But that wasn’t something coach Baker said was going to affect her team.

“Let’s not talk about last time,” she said. “This is a different team than last time. Different mentality, different all the way around…You can play the same team three times, and every game is going to be different.”

That new mentality, along with a fresh crop of players, led to a much different result this time around.

The contest was balanced through three innings, with neither team able to generate any offense. Coach Baker brought in Graves to pitch in the top of the third, a gamble that proved costly. Green County broke open the deadlock with two hits generating three scores.

From there, the stalemate continued. Trinity Baker went back into the circle and held the Dragons scoreless for the next three innings.

With chances running out, the Commanderettes finally found a breakthrough in the top of the sixth. A line drive from Kate Taylor made it deep into center field, allowing two runs to cross the plate and bring the score to 3-2.

But there would be no comeback in this contest. Green County was clinical in its final at-bats, rebuilding its lead to 6-2. After chasing the game for so long, the Commanderettes finally ran out of chances.

The loss put an end to Washington County’s unlikely tournament run, but may have signaled a turned corner for a team that has had its struggles.

“Sometimes when we get down a little bit we kind of falter,” Baker said of her team. “Now they’re learning to fight, and that’s when they’re going to be tough.”