BROOKSVILLE – The Bracken County softball team has had to overcome adversity all season.
Second-year head coach Brad Riley didn’t want the Lady Bears to make any excuses, however.
And when the team had the season on the line entering the 39th District semifinals on Monday, the Bracken County bats came alive to top Augusta in three innings, 18-2, to move above the .500 mark and earn a rematch with Mason County in the championship game.
“We’ve worked hard. We’ve had a lot of injuries, of course. I mean, we’ve lost three pitchers … so we’ve worked hard, we’ve battled through a lot. One of my assistant coaches – her dad passed away – so we’ve had a rough time at it, but there’s no excuses. We come and we put on our shoes just like everybody else and we play. We work to try to get better every day and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Bracken County coach Brad Riley. “We set a goal to deal with the punches and see what happens. I’m happy we adjusted and hit the ball pretty well tonight.”
The Lady Bears put up eight runs in the first inning and nine in the second to put the game away early.
Katelyn Bond led off the game with a single to center, Natalie Bell reached on an error and Savannah Engnes singled to drive in the first run of the game. Bell scored on a sacrifice fly from Breanna Hamilton, before the Lady Bears plated six more runs with two down.
Emma Schultz hit a two-run double, which was followed by an inside the park home run from Aly Keuper that made it 6-0. Bell came up for the second time in the inning and drove in two more runs to make it 8-0.
“We focus a lot of hitting and we hit the ball pretty well at the beginning of the year. We played Pendleton County and they’re good and we hit some balls really hard and our players thought that we had to change our swing because they were catching everything,” said Riley. “We went through some lumps there, but we focused and went back to what got us where we were at in the beginning.”
Hamilton hit a two-run double in the top of the second to make it 10-0, before the Lady Bears added another run on a ball hit by Keuper. With the bases loaded, Bell hit a triple to right field to make it 14-0. She finished with a team-high five RBIs in the game.
Bell scored on a double from Engnes, which was followed by a single from Emma Wolfe that scored the catcher to make it 16-0. Bracken County added the ninth run of the inning on a single from Hamilton that scored Wolfe.
The Lady Bears got another run in the third on a single from Brooklyn Sumner.
One of the positions where Bracken County was battling injury this spring was in the circle, losing starter Georganna Carpenter before the season began due to a knee injury suffered near the end of basketball season. She appeared in the game for an at bat on Monday, but it was Maya Purdin picking up the win for the Lady Bears.
The freshman shut out Augusta for the first two innings and held them hitless, before an infield single from Hannah Arthur in the top of the third. Arthur scored on an error to get the Lady Panthers on the board. Augusta added a second run when Emma Young scored on a single from Reagan Jett to make it 18-2.
“We have a team that’s fairly young. We have six or seven girls that have never played before until this year and it’s been a rough season, but we’re getting better every game. We’ll build on it next year,” said Augusta assistant Brian Jett, who was filling in for head coach Melvia Winchester.
“They’ve got a lot of heart. When they want to play, they’ll play, and when they want to play, they can play,” added Jett. “We’ve gotten better every game. That’s the goal.”
Purdin allowed two runs on two hits and three walks. She struck out two batters.
“Both of my pitchers [Purdin and Brooklyn Norton] are freshman with no varsity experience and they pitched very little JV last year. I’ve asked a lot out of them and they’ve stepped up to the mound, the plate – whatever you want to say – and all I ask them to do is throw strikes and if they throw strikes we’ll try and make the plays,” said Riley. “I’m very proud of both of them. They work hard, they go to pitching lessons, they listen, they come in with a positive attitude and that means a lot because they’re both freshman.”
Augusta closes out the season at 0-13. The Lady Panthers have three seniors on their roster in Nicole Arthur, Madison Frodge, and Rebecca Tabor.
“The two years that I’ve been involved they’ve been great leaders and they’ve done a great job helping their other teammates,” said Jett. “I can’t be more proud of them, but we ran into a tougher team and Bracken County’s a very good team.”
The Lady Bears improve to 12-11 and will face Mason County in the 39th District championship game on Tuesday. Bracken County fell to Mason County in the final the last two seasons and lost to the Lady Royals earlier this year, 17-4.
“I think we’ve got to catch the ball. We struggled a little bit last time, made some errors. We know they’re a good team, we know they’ve got a really good pitcher and I think our hitting is coming back to where it needs to be. I think we’ll hit, we’ve just got to make every out count. We can’t give them extra outs. If we do that, I think we can play with them,” said Riley. “They’re a solid team and they’ve got to be the favorite right now, but we’ll see what happens.”
The championship game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at Bracken County.
LADY BEARS 18, LADY PANTHERS 2 (3 INNINGS)
2B: Bell (BC), England (BC, Engnes (BC), Hamilton (BC), Schultz (BC)
3B: Bell (BC)
HR: Keuper (BC)
RBI: (A) –Jett. (BC) – Bell 5, Hamilton 4, Engnes 2, Keuper 2, Schultz 2, Sumner, Wolfe
LOB: Augusta 4, Bracken County 4
WP- Purdin. LP- N. Arthur.
Records: Augusta 0-12, Bracken County 12-11
Bracken County’s Natalie Bell swings at a pitch during the first inning of a 39th District semifinal game against Augusta, Monday, in Brooksville.