By Conor Revell
OWENSBORO, Ky. — For a year, the Holy Cross softball team had a cloud hanging over its head, ever since it lost to Livingston Central in the championship game of the 2014 All “A” Classic Statewide Fastpitch Softball Tournament.
But today, the cloud is gone. The Cougars took care of some unfinished business when they defeated Hancock County 10-6 in Sunday’s All ‘A” Classic final at Jack C. Fisher Park.
“We won as a family this year,” Holy Cross shortstop Shelby Atzinger said. “We were more confident. We had confidence in ourselves that we could fight back, and we proved it.”
But winning didn’t come without a roller coaster of emotions. The 12th-ranked Cougars (15-7) took a 5-0 lead before the Lady Hornets (16-6) bolted ahead with a six-run uprising in the top of the fifth inning.
Abby Fryear raced home from third with the tying run in the bottom half when Hancock County pitcher Cassie Payne threw a wild pitch.
“Last year we got here and we had to lose it to learn how to win,” Holy Cross head coach Tony Young said. “Last year the moment was too big. When Livingston Central had its big inning on us last year, we didn’t respond. Hancock County had that big inning and we responded.”
Atzinger’s single in the sixth inning that scored Maranda Jacobs and Allie Just proved to be the game winner.
“It was crazy,” Atzinger said. “I really wasn’t looking to do much. I just wanted to get a base hit and get the runner in. I was looking for my pitch.”
Morgan Gailor then followed with a towering two-run bomb over the center-field fence.
“I had to go out there and do something for my team,” Gailor said. “I did what I had to do. I’m glad I did because we were relaxed out there for that last inning.”
Gailor pitched the seventh and mowed down the Lady Hornets in order.
“I never had any doubts about whether we would win this game,” Young said. “We are a different team than a year ago. They believe in me as a coach and I believe in them as players, and we are having a different season. We have learned how to play in tough games.”
Gailor was a monster at the plate. The senior reached base four times and went 3 for 3 with two homers and four RBIs and was named the tournament MVP. She also pitched a complete game and allowed 11 hits.
Rae Lynn Wigginton started in the circle for Hancock County but came out after giving up two walks and a single to the first three hitters she faced. Payne pitched the rest of the game and allowed 11 hits.
Ally Brutscher (2 for 3), Atzinger (3 for 4), Bayley Brutscher (1 for 4) and Ally Klein (1 for 4) joined Gailor on the all-tournament team.
“I made sure I had good pitch selection,” Ally Brutscher said. “I had not been seeing the ball real well, so I was more patient with at my at-bats.”
The Cougars came out on fire. Atzinger’s RBI single and sacrifice flies by Bayley Brutscher and Allie Just gave Holy Cross a 3-0 lead in the first inning.
Gailor made it 5-0 in the third when her two-run homer sailed over the center-field fence.
However, the Lady Hornets fought back in the fifth. Gailor hit Natalie Fruge. Emma Robinson, Melissa Johnson and Sydney Schand hit back-to-back-to-back singles. Johnson’s singled chased home Fruge.
“That was a rough inning for me,” Gailor said. “I thought that I had it, but apparently I didn’t. But sometimes that’s how it goes. I love having my team back there, and I knew we could fight back.”
Ashlee Orr followed with a bases-clearing double that cut the Cougars’ lead to one. Orr tied the score on Mackenzie Roberts suicide squeeze. Wigginton gave the Lady Hornets a 6-5 edge when her single brought home Roberts.
“She (Gailor) didn’t pitch her best today, but she only had one bad inning,” Young said. “At the end of the day, I rode her really hard this weekend. I told her that it’s her senior season and that we are going to live and die with her out there. That’s what we did. We got out of the inning and I asked her if she had anything left and she said, ‘Yes.’ I told her to start going harder.”
Although she never came in, Kameron Bowling was told to start getting ready. Bowling played a key role in Saturday’s wins over Somerset and University Heights and pitched three innings in the 6-3 semifinal win over Raceland Sunday morning.
Young went out of his way to say that his team would not have won the title without Bowling.
“I had to focus with my pitches,” Bowling said. “I had my team in the back of my mind because we have been working really hard. Last year was really emotional because of that loss. We came this year and all of us were ready to fight.”
Originally, the 16-team tournament was divided into four pools with a single-elimination tournament involving the top two teams from each pool to be played Sunday. Officials changed it to a double-elimination format Saturday because of the threat of severe weather.
But the format was changed again Sunday when officials discovered that three of the fields were unplayable and declared that only the four teams in the winners’ bracket would remain.
Hancock County beat Bishop Brossart 11-0 in the other semfinal.
While the Cougars are smiling now, they hope to return to Jack C. Fischer Park in June to play in the KHSAA state tournament.
“I feel like we have started a mission and we have completed a part of the mission,” Young said. “This is the first softball state championship in the All “A” Classic for the city of Louisville. It’s nice to take this trophy home. But the message I have to the girls before we walk out of here is that we are not done.”