LEXINGTON Brian Deem called Lewis County “scary” and “dangerous” in the lead-up to Friday’s state quarterfinals. Then Boyle County’s coach elected not to start the Lady Rebels’ ace against the Lady Lions.
Lewis County, which had done its homework by getting scouting information from other northeastern Kentucky teams who had seen Boyle County, took notice.
“We were a little offended they didn’t start their ace. We’ll just say it,” Lady Lions coach Joe Hampton said. “We were a little offended. That was OK. We weren’t mad.”
As it turned out, Lewis County got to see the Lady Rebels’ Kayleigh White anyway. Deem handed her the ball in the fourth inning after the Lady Lions’ Emily Cole led off the frame by banging a home run off Boyle County starter Kyndal Honaker.
Facing White and her 1.01 earned-run average, and with the Lady Lions down to their final strike of the sixth inning, Kayla Sullivan turned in a bases-clearing triple to put Lewis County on top.
The Lady Lions stayed there, knocking off seventh-ranked Boyle County and its two sterling pitchers, 6-2.
Lewis County, which had never so much as played in a region tournament final before 11 days ago, continued its magical run to today’s state semifinals at John Cropp Stadium.
“It’s indescribable, being in the Final Four for our county,” Cole said. “It’s just a really good feeling.”
Sullivan played her part by producing the go-ahead runs. White had recorded two outs when she issued her third free pass of the top of the sixth inning to load the bases. She then got two strikes on Sullivan, who fouled off two more pitches before finding the one she wanted.
“I knew that it wasn’t gonna be a high pitch because she tried that and it didn’t really work,” Sullivan said. “She’s a really good pitcher, but I knew it was gonna be right down the middle or outside.”
Sullivan yanked it to right-center, just clearing diving Lady Rebels center fielder Ashlen Roller. Three runs came around, and as Sullivan motored into third base, the blue-clad Lewis County cheering section behind the third-base dugout roared.
Sullivan had come up empty with the bases loaded and two outs to end the inning two frames earlier. A reporter asked Hampton if he imparted any words of wisdom to Sullivan before her at-bat in the sixth.
“She doesn’t need advice from me,” Hampton deadpanned. “No one works harder than she does ... I knew one swing of the bat could change things dramatically.”
“Oh yeah, I was super relieved,” Lewis County’s ace said. “I knew (Sullivan) was probably our best hitter today, her and Summer (Egbert), so I wanted to have them in those situations to score some runs for us.”
Boyle County got a run back in the bottom of the sixth on Summer Ray’s RBI groundout, but Lewis County (23-8) tacked on two more runs in the seventh when Kelsi Tackett worked a bases-loaded walk and courtesy runner Rylie Patton scored from third on a wild pitch.
That was a veritable windfall of offense for Cole, who compiled a three-hitter. She fanned six Lady Rebels and walked none, allowing one earned run.
Cole came into the game with the state’s second-lowest ERA (0.77), while Honaker and White’s marks were both under 2.00. The Lady Lions sophomore’s statement was clear.
“(I told her), ‘Hey, you’re the best pitcher in the stadium, show it,’” Hampton said, “and she went out there and did it.”
Cole said she had worked with her father, Lewis County assistant Marty Cole, on her drop ball in the week preceding the game. She deployed it to great effect, inducing 12 groundouts — including each out of the seventh.
Cole said seeing Boyle County send White from her third base position to the bullpen to warm up and then to the circle was “nerve-racking,” in part because of her rise ball. But the Lady Lions didn’t bite, working six walks off White.
Deem said Honaker had earned the ball to start the game based on her statistics and record and that he went with the hook to try to throw off the Lady Lions’ timing.
“We made the switch there just because we felt like we could get a little bit more of a change of pace in the middle of the game that might work in our advantage, and it did,” he said. “And in the sixth inning, we missed a couple of spots and the Sullivan kid can hit. She barrelled one to right-center.”
Egbert went 2 for 3 to pace Lewis County’s offense.
Boyle County (28-7) got on the board first when courtesy runner Stella Johnson scored from third base on a dropped third strike on the would-be final out of the second inning. Cole got it back herself with a shot to center field to lead off the fourth frame, and it stayed tied until Sullivan untied it.
“That’s one reason we wanted to try to play with a lead,” Hampton said. “When you get up, you put so much pressure on the other team. ... They got to feel the pressure and not us. I felt like this game was a no-pressure game for us, just because we know who was expected to win.”
Instead, Lewis County won — setting a school record for single-season victories with its 23rd. The school’s first team to make a state tournament since 1977 is now two wins from a state championship.
The Lady Lions are the fourth 16th Region team to make a fast-pitch Final Four, joining East Carter in 2018, Ashland in 2015 and Russell in 1996.
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LEWIS CO. 000 103 2 — 6 7 1
BOYLE CO. 010 001 0 — 2 3 1
Cole and Tackett; Honaker, White (4) and Glasscock. W — Cole. L — White. 2B — Egbert (LC), Honaker (BC). 3B — Sullivan (LC). HR — Cole (LC).