Immersed in another district contest with little breathing room, Greenup County softball coach Eric Keeton resorted to the strengths of his lineup: bunting and baserunning.
Two bunts and a swinging bunt helped the Lady Musketeers scratch across three runs in the fifth inning of a 6-2 victory over Raceland in the 63rd District Tournament opening round on Monday night at Russell High School. Top-seeded Russell defeated Lewis County, also 6-2, earlier in the evening.
Greenup County and Russell will meet in the district championship game on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
On Monday, Greenup County’s decisive fifth was spurred by singles from Abby Sanders and Casey Meenach.
Paige Howard, the No. 3 hitter, then placed a bunt down the third base line. It was well defended by the Lady Rams until an errant throw from third baseman Chloe Adkins sailed past shortstop Bre Grubb, covering the bag, and scooted into foul territory. Sanders came home as a result to put Greenup County ahead 3-2.
“We tell our girls, it doesn’t matter what position you are in the order, you have to be able to lay down a bunt,” Keeton said. “All of our power hitters executed very well.”
The play, which resembled a safety squeeze, worked to perfection again for the Lady Musketeers as cleanup hitter Andrea Dean’s bunt plated the speedy Meenach.
Madi Greene followed with a dribbler to third that prompted Adkins to pause on a throw to first. She instead tried to nab the runner between third and home, and the toss to the plate got away from catcher Morgan Curley. It was 5-2 after five innings.
Jordan Gillum provided yet another RBI bunt in the seventh for the Lady Musketeers.
“We knew exactly what they were going to do,” Raceland coach Shawn Johnson said. “It played out exactly the way we had planned for it to play out, but we just couldn’t make the play.”
Raceland (18-15) saw its young team reach surprising heights this season. The Lady Rams enjoyed an eight-game winning streak in April, which included a 6-5 win in eight innings over Greenup County (18-16).
The Lady Rams supplied steady sticks all season, but Greenup County’s Brooke Johnson found a way to tame them following the first inning on Monday.
Chloe Adkins and Madison Johnson chased Raceland’s two runs home with a double and single, respectively, in the first. After that, the Lady Rams left the bases loaded in the second and then stranded a runner on third in the third frame.
Johnson, a Greenup County sophomore, proceeded to turn in three consecutive 1-2-3 innings, retiring 12 in a row overall. She relented a pair of singles in the seventh, but struck out the side. She finished with eight strikeouts.
“I couldn’t ask for a better performance,” Keeton said of Johnson, who missed a handful of starts earlier in the season as she battled tendinitis in her right knee — her push knee.
Raceland pitcher Kelsey Diller fanned seven Lady Musketeers.
Lewis Co. 2
After a positive start, everything went downhill for Lewis County when a line drive struck sophomore pitcher Kelsey Rizzo just below her left eye.
Sydney Watkins smoked a pitch right back at her, and the ball made contact with the tip of the righthander’s glove and eye simultaneously.
Rizzo was tended to by trainers and Lewis County coaches before making her way to a local hospital. After the game, her return to Russell’s facilities was expected as she planned to watch the Lewis County-Russell baseball game.
Russell piled up five runs, though, in the inning she exited. The decisive fourth began with a deep double off the bat of Mallory Powell.
Powell excelled at her other job, inside the pitching circle, after pounding that ball against the fence. She didn’t allow another run and Lewis County managed just three hits over the last five innings.
“I thought it was outta here when it first left (the bat),” said Russell coach Ron Osborn of Powell’s two-bagger to right. “She has nerves that she has to work through every game, and when she gets a nice hit or whatever, that helps.”
Said Osborn of Lewis County: “Those kids can hit.”
The Lady Lions (6-16) competed closely with Russell in all three meetings this season — they lost 5-4, 5-1 and 6-2.
“We’re just looking forward to next season,” said Lewis County coach Kayla Lykins. “We have a lot of young girls who we think will improve.”
Seventh-grader Jalyssa Cortez took over pitching duties for Lewis County. Russell’s Annalee Miller and Emma Ison each singled off of her to give Russell a 4-2 lead before Arden Gross pounded a two-run double to left center field in the fourth.
Russell (14-14) beat Greenup County in the last two district title games. The Lady Devils won 5-4 in eight innings last season and 2-0 in 2011.
LEWIS CO. 020 000 0 — 2 7 2
RUSSELL 001 500 x — 6 6 2
Rizzo, Cortez (4) and Stamm; Powell and Gross. W—Powell. L—Rizzo. 2B—Gross (R), Powell (R), Frye (L), T. Liles (L). 3B—M. Liles (L), Caudill (L).
GREENUP CO. 020 030 1 — 6 10 2
RACELAND 200 000 0 — 2 7 4
Johnson and Howard; Diller and Curley. W—Johnson. L—Diller. 2B—Greene (G), Traylor (G), Dean (G), Adkins (R).