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SOFTBALL: Late great Kate and a dirty Day

BNLs Jenna Dufresne hits the dirt to score a run.

BNL’s Jenna Dufresne hits the dirt to score a run. The Stars clipped New Albany 9-8 in 8 innings to advance to the sectional final.

BNL scores dramatic run

in 8th inning to clip NA,

advance to sectional final

Box score

By Justin Sokeland

TheHHCSports.com

SEYMOUR – Under a cloud of dust, as everyone held their breath, Bedford North Lawrence’s Tristin Day was sprawled across home plate. The question the umpire was asking – and the answer would determine the postseason fate of two teams – was crucial: Where was the softball?

If it was resting in the glove of New Albany catcher Terah Crosier, Day could have been out. Her slide and the ball arrived at the critical point simultaneously. When all that dirt finally settled, the ball was found, loose on the ground, and the Stars exploded with the joy of the victorious.

BNL sophomore Kate Nicholson had two hits, including the game winner in the bottom of the eighth inning.

BNL sophomore Kate Nicholson had two hits, including the game winner in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Day scampered home, powered there by Kate Nicholson’s sharp single to center, in the bottom of the eighth inning with the deciding run as the Stars avenged a regular-season loss with a thrilling 9-8 win over New Albany in the Class 4-A sectional semifinal at Seymour on Tuesday night.

BNL (17-10) advanced to face No.4 Floyd Central, an 11-1 winner over Jennings County in the first semifinal, in the championship game on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Stars will seek their first sectional title since 2000.

The combination that produced the winning run was unlikely. Day, thanks to a broken bone in her right hand that required surgery, had not had a base hit since March 29. Yet she started the 8th with a hard grounder into center field. She stole second, barely, when the first pitch to Kiana Brown popped briefly out of Crosier’s mitt, giving her just enough time to beat that throw.

Tristin Day gobbles up a ground ball at shortstop. Day scored the winning run in the 8th inning after getting her first hit since March 29.

Tristin Day gobbles up a ground ball at shortstop. Day scored the winning run in the 8th inning after getting her first hit since March 29.

After Brown popped out, Nicholson  – a left-hander who usually relies on bunts and speed for her hits – laced the first pitch from New Albany pitcher Whitney Atkins into center. And the race was on. Day rounded third, here came the throw  . . .

“I was going to leave it all out on the field,” Day said. “I just took off running as fast as I could.”

“I thinking ‘Score Tristin,'” Nicholson said. “Coach (Brad) Gilbert told me to try and bust it over their heads. They were expecting a bunt, so I tried to smash it as hard as I could.”

That drama was only the final act. There was plenty more during the first seven innings.

After the Bulldogs (16-9) took a 1-0 lead in the first on Kennedy Wynn’s RBI single, the Stars struck back, taking advantage of two New Albany errors to score 3 times. That would be a theme. The first time the teams met, BNL had 10 errors during a 15-6 loss on April 14. This time, the Bulldogs had 6 miscues that led to 5 unearned runs.

BNL took a 5-1 lead in the third as Jenna Dufrense singled, Marissa Watson busted a ball off the right-field wall for a double, and both scored as Cassie Rutledge dropped a bunt and Atkins tossed the ball past Crosier to the backstop.

Zoe Adams earned the win in the circle, working 7 1/3 innings and throwing 120 pitches.

Zoe Adams earned the win in the circle, working 7 1/3 innings and throwing 120 pitches.

In the fourth, BNL extended its lead to 7-1 as Watson laced a 2-run triple into the right-field corner. She was cut down at the plate, but it was a sign of BNL’s aggressiveness. The Stars were playing to win, not sitting back waiting for something good to happen.

“The kids did a great job of coming out early and scoring,” Gilbert said. “They battled and knocked New Albany back on their heels a little bit. I’m proud of the way the kids attacked. They put the ball in play and put pressure on them. You have to give New Albany credit. They came back , big time.”

Yes they did.

The Bulldogs finally broke through against BNL starter (and finisher) Zoe Adams, cranking out 6 hits in the 5th. The first four – with Mariah Grant, Jenna Fath and Marissa Jones all driving in runs  – slashed the BNL lead to 7-4. The next two erased it completely.

Wynn greeted BNL relief pitcher Leona Morron by crushing a 3-run home run to center. Crosier ripped a towering homer to left for an 8-7 New Albany lead. BNL pitching coach Dave Horton took the blame for both, kicking himself for signalling for a rise ball that definitely did, all the way over the fence.

Madison Pittman beats the ball to third base during BNL's 3-run first inning.

Madison Pittman beats the ball to third base during BNL’s 3-run first inning.

Now most teams that blow a 6-run lead in one inning usually have trouble recapturing momentum. BNL answered immediately as Morgan Lambrecht smacked a two-out double to right, pinch runner Alli Crulo-Rood took third on a wild pitch, and she scored when Atkins misplayed Day’s grounder back to the circle.

“Our kids do a good job of flushing it out and going one pitch at a time,” Gilbert said. “It doesn’t matter. It’s the next pitch.”

Watson had 3 hits while Nicholson, Dufrense and Rutledge had 2 each. Adams (9-4) worked 7 1/3 innings, re-entering the next inning after the back-to-back homers, and threw 120 pitches. Lost in all the offensive fireworks were incredible defensive plays by Day (fielding a ball deep in the hole at short, faking to first, and catching Crosier rounding second too far) and Rutledge (making a running catch of a deep Wynn line drive to left).

Wynn was 3-for-4 while Fath, Crosier and Riley Case had two hits each for the Bulldogs.

BNL’s victory earned it a rematch with the Highlanders (27-3 with 24 straight wins), who have been blasting every opponent since a 3-2 win at BNL during the opening round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament. They whipped the Panthers (16-10) in five innings as Maddie Probus and Cassie Thomeron slugged 2-run homers. Jenna Endris added a solo blast over the scoreboard.

“We’ve talked all year about just getting a shot at a sectional championship,” Gilbert said. “Anything can happen. We’re excited to be there, and it doesn’t matter who is in the other dugout. We’re going to play our game.”

“This gives us a lot of confidence,” Nicholson said. “We just have to do what we have to do.”

Floyd Central is the two-time defending sectional champion. The winner will host the victor from the Evansville North sectional in a one-game regional on May 31.