Ballard ends Male’s reign, advances to final

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By:  Jeff Woods 

There will be a new representative for the seventh region at the state softball tournament this year.

Ballard made sure of that.

The Bruins ended Male’s five-year stranglehold on the region, beating the Bulldogs 6-4 in the semifinals Wednesday night.

“We came ready to play. We played them the first time we came in tight,” said Ballard head coach Alan Jones. “Tonight, we came out loosey goosey and we were ready to go.

“When we got behind 2-1, the old Ballard would’ve quit. But they were not going to get beat tonight.”

Ballard’s victory is the first against Male in the region tournament since 2012. The Bulldogs had ended Ballard’s season in four of the last five years.

“I’m tired of going home to the same team year after year,” said Ballard junior Shelby Kelley. “We came in here worried about us today. We weren’t worried about them at all.”

Ballard trailed 2-1 early despite a first-inning home run by Allie Skaggs, but a big third inning gave the Bruins a lead they would not relinquish. It started with a two-run bases-loaded single by Kelley that put Ballard ahead 3-2. Moments later, Za’Kiya Sizemore hit a two-run double that pushed the advantage to 5-2.

“What I loved is (Male) jumped on us, but we didn’t quit and we went right back at them,” said Jones. “But we still have one more. If you don’t finish it, it’s just a moral victory and I don’t think about moral victories.”

With the Bruins now just one win away from a trip to Owensboro, the job for coach Jones is to bring his team back down from the emotional high of beating a fierce rival.

“Trust me, they’ll come down when we get back to Ballard,” said Jones. “They’ll be back to reality. We’re going to celebrate now, but then we’re going to get back and be ready to go.”

“We just really have to focus on us,” said Kelley. “We don’t need to focus on whoever we play and I think we all realize we’re not there yet. But that win definitely helps us momentum-wise. We’re really positive and very confident right now.”

Male did not go down without a fight. Down 6-2 in the sixth, Jenna Howell hit a solo homer to left center to cut the deficit to 6-3. Then in the seventh, Jaelyn Sanders’ RBI single made it 6-4. The Bulldogs had the tying run at the plate, but Shelby Kelley got Jasmine Miller to flyout to end the threat and secure the win.

“We won the thing five years in a row and I think everyone on the outside thought we could just roll through, but it’s a lot of work,” said Male head coach Josh Bloomer. “We were maybe a play here or there away. Unfortunately, we don’t play a series. We play a one-game setting. Their pitchers did a good job of keeping us off balance and when they got the opportunities, they made more of them than we did.

“One game does not define the success or the not-success of a year. And that’s what I told them.”

Ballard will try to earn its first trip to the state tournament since 2011 in the seventh region final Thursday night.