On Saturday evening, Male High School claimed its first ever fast-pitch softball state championship by defeating Warren East 6-1 at John Cropp Field on the University of Kentucky campus. The victory capped off a perfect 39-0 season, a mark that had only been done once before back in 2013 when Greenwood finished with a 44-0 record.
When asked if his team was the greatest in Kentucky softball history, Male head coach Josh Bloomer said, “I’m not going to say it is, but I’m not going to say it’s not. We played an unbelievable schedule and whoever wanted to play us.”
The road was not an easy one. The Lady Bulldogs played a daunting schedule filled with matchups against top teams within Kentucky and other states such as Alabama and Indiana. In that case, it was fitting for the state championship to feature Kentucky’s top two teams.
With two of the top pitchers in the state in Kentucky Miss Softball Katie Gardner and top junior Kelsie Houchens, getting the nod in the circle, the matchup had the makings of a pitchers duel. The teams combined for just one hit through the first four innings.
Things would change in the fifth with a single from Emma Young eventually scoring Gardner due to an error in the outfield, breaking the scoreless tie for Warren East. But the bats would wake up in the bottom half of the inning for Male. Jasmine Miller blasted a leadoff double and Jaelyn Sanders brought her home with a double of her own. Sanders would then score from second on a sac-bunt from Megan Lenhart to give the Lady Bulldogs their first lead.
Matters got ugly quick in the following inning as Warren East loaded the bases with no outs. In one of the biggest moments of her career, Houchens would get out of the jam without giving up a run, striking out two and getting the next batter to fly out. “It was a little nerve-racking”, Houchens recalled, “but I just knew I had to go out there and compete.”
“If that’s not the epitome of someone (Houchens) who wants the ball and embraces competing”, Bloomer said. “And I told her, I will ride her any day.”
Looking to add some insurance runs in the sixth, Male would also load the bases. With two outs and two strikes, Sanders ripped a bases-clearing double and score off of an error to make it a 6-1 lead and the Lady Bulldogs would never look back.
“It felt great”, Sanders exclaimed, “I knew I had to do something for my team because I made the two errors that cost us the first run.”
“We had some adversity today, but we just found ways to win. That’s what a great team does and make no mistake, that’s a great team that just won a state championship. We’re not going to shy away from the hard work. We had a bullet on our back and we wore in; we didn’t care about it. We just tried to come out and compete and I’m super proud of my kids”, Bloomer explained.
Sanders was named the state tournament MVP, going 2-for-3 with four RBIs, which is the second most in state championship history. Houchens gets the win and finishes with a perfect 25-0 record for the 2018-19 season.
Even though Bloomer claimed his first state championship as Male’s head coach, his focus is on his players. “They’re good for the kids and I’m proud of them. It’s not about me at all. I know what it feels like to be on the other side and it’s tough”, he said.
Male will return all but one player next season—senior Madison McCoy. A player who Bloomer looks to for a spark and leadership, she was to finish her career on top, after coming up short a handful of times in years past. “It feels really good”, McCoy explained, “what means the most to me is the girls; coming together and doing this just means a lot.”