It was another seesaw battle between Raceland and Russell until the Lady Rams ran into a buzz saw.
The buzz saw was Russell catcher Arden Gross, who capped off a 4-for-4 day with a go-ahead two-run single to left field in the sixth inning of a 9-7 Russell win on Wednesday night at Russell High School.
The Lady Devils locked up the No. 1 spot in the newly seeded 63rd District Tournament. Raceland slid into the two-slot and will host Greenup County in the postseason event, which will be held at Russell on the week of May 20.
Raceland coach Shawn Johnson regretted pitching to Gross, a senior who bats third in Russell’s lineup.
“I made a bad call,” Johnson shook his head. “We should have never given her a pitch to hit, we should have forced somebody else to beat us. She was 3-for-3, and we threw one over her head, and she hits one into the hole.
“I don’t know if there’s a better bad ball hitter than Arden Gross.”
Gross saw the high pitch a little differently.
“She threw it right down the middle,” she said.
Earlier in the at-bat, Gross pulled a liner a few feet foul into the fence. Instead of reverting back to an old habit of racking up foul balls like a coin collector hoards 50-cent pieces, Gross settled in for a 2-2 pitch and executed.
“I’ve definitely grown (as a hitter),” Gross said. “I’m more calm when I’m up at the plate and I think about the pitches that they’re going to throw. It’s easier being a catcher because we have a strategy with our pitcher. So I’m always trying to think of what the pitcher we’re competing against will throw.”
Wednesday marked the third meeting between Russell and Raceland, and the Lady Devils have been a narrow winner each time — the outcomes were 4-3, 5-4 and now 9-7.
Russell (10-12) improved to 5-1 inside the district. It had dropped seven of its last nine before the latest duel with Raceland.
“It was really important because we’ve been struggling here of late,” said Russell coach Ron Osborn. “We’re still making way too many mistakes, letting too many balls drop in, throwing to the wrong base ...
“... but that No. 1 seed is huge,” he continued. “I still think we’re going to make some noise in the (16th Region Tournament).”
Hope Parsley put Russell on the scoreboard first, and in emphatic fashion. The junior parked a three-run home run to center field to tie the game at 3-3 in the first inning.
Raceland (16-11) had already started off with a bang. Taylor Podunavac and Savannah Mackie led off the first inning with back-to-back doubles. Leigh Grubb’s bloop single to right field plated Bre Grubb and Madison Johnson to give the Lady Rams an early 3-0 advantage.
Following Parsley’s home run, Raceland allowed two more Russell runs before knotting things back up in the fourth inning. Bre Grubb dropped an RBI single into right, and the ball slipped under the glove of the right fielder as the game-tying run scored.
Raceland pulled ahead again in the fifth, when Kelsey Diller skied a run-scoring double to right center field with two outs to make it 6-5. Morgan Curley followed with a slicing single to left that brought home Diller.
Russell answered the door again, as Parsley tallied her RBI total to four with a well-executed bunt and Sara Hieneman followed with a two-out RBI rocket up the middle to tie the contest at 7-7.
Lady Devils pitcher Mallory Powell settled down to retire seven of the last eight batters she faced as her batterymate did the rest with her bat. Gross’s fourth single of the evening scored Cassie Fultz and Hannah Carter — Fultz had drawn a leadoff walk and Carter had singled with two outs.
Defensive substitute Alexis Maynard made a fine diving catch in right field to help back up Powell in the top of the seventh.
With the district tournament less than two weeks away, Gross’s eyes lit up when asked about the high-level competitiveness in the tight 63rd.
“I’m so excited,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been looking forward to.”
RACELAND 300 220 0 — 7 12 0
RUSSELL 311 022 x — 9 11 2
Diller and Curley; Powell and Gross. W—Powell. L—Diller. 2B—Podunavac (Race), Mackie (Race), Diller (Race). HR—Parsley (Russ).