Elkin, Gardner send Lady Raiders into region championship rematch with Spartans
Ever since Warren East suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to South Warren in last year’s regional softball championship, all it has wished for is another shot against its longtime rival with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
The Lady Raiders are getting their wish.
While South Warren won 12-1 over Allen County-Scottsville in Wednesday’s first semifinal, Warren East played a dominant level on both sides of the ball and rolled to an 11-0 shutout win over Franklin-Simpson in the nightcap at the WKU Softball Complex to set up another classic Lady Raider-Spartan clash in Thursday’s Region 4 Tournament championship.
“You just want to give yourself a chance at the beginning of the season,” Warren East softball coach Phillip McKinney said. “That’s what everyone’s mindset is — and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve given ourselves another chance. We’ll tee it up tomorrow night and see what happens.”
Warren East (28-4) and South Warren (22-7) have met twice before in the region title match. The Lady Raiders won 1-0 in 2015, while the Spartans — who have won the past two championships — took a 3-2 victory in 2017.
The Lady Raiders expect Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. championship to be another battle.
“Since I’ve been playing, every time we get to the championship it’s us and South. Always,” Warren East pitcher Katie Gardner said. “It’s always those one-run games. Whenever we play, you just have to win by that one run. That’s all that matters.”
A big reason why the Lady Raiders were able to get back to the Region 4 title match was behind a dominant performance by Gardner on Wednesday.
The junior — and Tennessee-Martin commit — tossed a no-hitter with 10 strikeouts in four innings of work. Eight-grader Emma Markham replaced Gardner in the fifth and made sure Franklin didn’t get anything going.
“I think she was rated 11th preseason as Player of the Year and she’s backing it up,” McKinney said of his ace. “Great attitude out there on the field and she was really stout tonight.”
“My change-up popped in there and got girls swinging ahead and I threw my rise and my curve in there,” Gardner said.
While the pitching was spot on for the Lady Raiders, so was their offense.
Finishing with 12 hits, junior second baseman Kya Elkin led the way for Warren East with a perfect day at the plate. In three at-bats, Elkin tripled, doubled, walked and recorded three RBI in one of her best outings yet — and when the Lady Raiders needed her most.
“It’s awesome,” Elkin said of the win. “We’ve been pushing to get to the regional championship this whole year because we lost last year. It’s just what we’ve been pushing to get to.”
Warren East jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning and unloaded for seven runs on seven hits in the ensuing frame to build a comfortable 10-0 advantage after four.
Leading 3-0 after a third inning that was highlighted by Elkin’s RBI triple, the second baseman delivered a two-run double in the next set to make it 5-0. A pair of RBI doubles from Shelby Trent and Jeyda Bays followed by Ashton Akins’ RBI single then pushed the Lady Raiders’ lead to 10-0.
The Lady Raiders went on to add a run on pinch-hitter Cailyn Howard’s sacrifice groundout in the fifth to record run No. 11.
“We didn’t hit in the first and second inning but once we got going we just kept hitting the ball,” Elkin said.
While South Warren swept the regular-season series, Warren East defeated the Spartans, 8-1, in the District 14 championship on May 24. As South will try to knock off the Lady Raiders and head back to Owensboro, East will be looking to book its first trip to state since 2015.
“It’s been crazy,” said McKinney of the electrifying Warren East-South Warren rivalry. “Like I always say, if you’ve kept up with it, it’s unreal since they’ve been South Warren how the two of us have been connected in softball. It’s going to be another battle.”
WEHS – 0 0 3 7 1 x x – 11 12 0
FSHS – 0 0 0 0 0 x x – 0 0 0
WP: Gardner. LP: Davis.