Hang around sports long enough and you’re bound to read or hear the phrase, “Defense wins championships.”
All season long during their quest for their program’s KHSAA Fastpitch Softball state tournament title, the nationally ranked Male Bulldogs (35-0) have lived that mantra on the field.
“I know my defense will work for me,” said Male junior pitcher Kelsie Houchens, whose team has opened the postseason with four straight shutouts. “Even if I throw a bad pitch, I know that even if they do hit it, that my defense is going to back me up.”
The defense backed up Houchens Tuesday evening in the win in the Seventh Region Tournament final against Assumption as Houchens had just one strikeout while her fielders took care of the rest:
- Sophomore shortstop Lauren Pelton turned a double play on a ball many players wouldn’t have been able to get to.
- “Defensively, Lauren Pelton’s been awesome,” said Male coach Josh Bloomer. “That kid comes into the season not even expecting to play varsity. And she has just grown and she has embraced it and she has been awesome at short.
* Junior third baseman Jasmine Miller was hit by a batted ball and still got the out.
“She made a play in the first inning where it bounces off her and she stayed with it,” Bloomer said.
* Freshman right fielder Jadyn Thompson had a diving catch for an out.
- Junior left fielder Megan Lenhart just missed a diving catch for an out early on, but junior center fielder Jaelyn Sanders backed her up to keep the runner from advancing past first base. Lenhart later would run into the fence in foul territory to make a flyball out.
Sanders and Thompson collided while Sanders caught a flyball near the 220-foot fence, which would have been a home run in many high school parks.
“My outfield, we work hard,” Bloomer said. “My outfield isn’t just some place you just go in our program if you can’t make plays. Our outfield gets a ton of reps every single day. We expect them to make those plays and we understand how great a play it is. But that’s the expectation: You’re going to lay out and you’re going to make those plays.”
Male has made plays all season as only one player has made more than three errors. As a whole, the Bulldogs have made just 23 chances in 775 chances for a 97.03 fielding percentage as a team. During their time in the circle, Houchens and Sanders have allowed just five unearned runs in 181 innings — that’s 0.19 unearned runs allowed by Male per game when Houchens or Sanders pitch.
So don’t expect Male to make a lot of mistakes, or even a single mistake, even when teams are fortunate to put the ball in play against Houchens or Sanders. The duo has combined for 231 strikeouts against statistically the toughest schedule in the state according to maxpreps.com.
” They’re animals, and they play hard,” said Assumption coach Lisa Pinkston, whose top-10 Rockets were held to just one run in 21 innings against Male this season. “You have to respect that.”