(Cover photo credit: Ashli McLean)
It was Kaci Franklin’s steal and run off a wild pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning that sealed the deal for Fern Creek against a struggling North Bullitt team (10-21) at the Sixth Region semifinals on May 31. Franklin was the difference maker for the Tigers, hitting an RBI in the bottom of the third inning and then the steal later in the game to mark the final score 2-0.
The game was held at the University of Louisville’s Ulmer Stadium.
“It just gave us a lot of excitement,” said Franklin on her final run, “’cause we scored a comfort run. If they scored [one], we’d still have the lead.”
A close call, Franklin admitted that she was sure the catcher would tag her out in time. However, the upmire decided favorably for the junior.
“I usually never do it,” Franklin laughed on stealing bases, “but in games like this, we need the runs to come back. We need the runs to get comfort runs, and stuff like that, so I just had to be aggressive and get through.”
It wasn’t until the top of the third inning that fans saw a flurry of action. With two outs and North Bullitt pinch runner Courtney Hornback on first base, Savannah Guelda hit a fly ball to center left for a single. Teammate Katie Knight looked for the hit to get the bases loaded, but her three strikes by a consistent Jennifer Leonhardt in the circle finished the inning, still 0-0 on the scoreboard.
In the bottom of third, Fern Creek’s Shelbi Knauer hit the ball that bounced high and gave her time to run to first base. Leonhardt went up to bat next and hit another high grounder out to center left for a single. Once Stacy Maloney entered the game as pinchrunner for Leonhardt, Julia Smith went to bat and hit a fly ball, also out to center left for a single.
With the bases loaded, Franklin’s grounder became a tough catch for North Bullitt’s Jessica Wayne. Maloney was tagged out on her way to third, but not before Knauer scored the run.
Fern Creek led 1-0 while North Bullitt struggled to get good hits on the Tigers or any runner past second base.
In the bottom of the sixth, Franklin found herself on third base from a ball and two steals. Her final steal to score her second run came off a wild pitch by Madison Ludwig as she tried to strike out Sierra Conforti.
Robinson had talked to Conforti at the plate when she went up to bat, telling her to get a base hit to bring Franklin home. He then returned near the third base where Franklin awaited the play.
“I told her also,” Robinson described about his quick words to Franklin, “I said, ‘Be prepared for a wild pitch or anything. You’re scoring. I don’t care where the ball goes. If it’s in the dirt, gets past the catcher, you’re scoring. We need this extra run.”
Fern Creek moved ahead 2-0. North Bullitt’s final hitter in the top of the seventh, Mary Andres, hit a fly out to centerfield for the final out that ended the game.
Although posting a 15-19 record, Fern Creek made it out the 24th District with surprise wins over No. 18 Mercy, and then No. 5 Bullitt East for the championship. Perhaps those two games best prepared them for today.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Fern Creek head coach Rob Robinson, Jr., on his team now being only one game away from the state tournament in Owensboro. “Last year, this year both. They just have a lot of heart. They really have a lot of heart. I have six seniors do a great job. A couple juniors start, a sophomore. We’re a very mature team, and they just have a lot of heart. I am so proud of them.”
Robinson is only in his second year as head coach of the team.
Leonhardt threw 80 pitches and struck out 16. Only one North Bullitt ball made it to the outfield. She said the key to her game tonight was getting ahead of the batters. She recorded a host of 1, 2 strikes, which helped save her arm.
“She was efficient with her pitches tonight,” said Robinson on Leonhardt.
“I was feeling good because those were the best games I threw all year,” Leonhardt added on entering today’s match up after having defeated Mercy and Bullitt East back-to-back. “The defense has been great behind me, so I was just hyped and ready to play this game!”
Fern Creek will challenge Holy Cross on June 2 for the Sixth Region championship. Game time is set for 5:30 p.m. back at Ulmer Stadium. The winner will advance to the Worth/KHSAA State Softball Tournament June 9-11 in Owensboro, Ky.