Hymer’s walk-off carries Lady Raiders into state quarterfinals
OWENSBORO — Warren East couldn’t have scripted it any better.
With sophomore shortstop Hailey Hymer — one of the team’s best options when it comes to bunting — at the plate with a runner on third base and the game tied at 2-2, Warren East coach Phillip McKinney and the Lady Raiders knew exactly what the plan was.
Sacrifice squeeze bunt from Hymer directly to the pitcher’s mound. Kya Elkin scores from third. Warren East earns a 3-2 walk-off win over Ryle in the opening round of the Owensboro Health/KHSAA State Softball Tournament at Jack C. Fisher Park.
State Softball: Warren East 3, Ryle 2. FINAL.
Lady Raiders (30-4) earn walk off win on a suicide squeeze from Hailey Hymer. pic.twitter.com/QrWknWweL3
— Tyler Mansfield (@TMansfieldST) June 8, 2018
“She got it down just fine,” McKinney said of Hymer’s hit. “The first baseman was back and I really wanted it down first, but she got it down softly — and the rest is history.”
“Just had to do my job and get it down and score a run,” Hymer said of the play. “We had to score the run and win the game.”
The way the Lady Raiders (30-4) pulled out Thursday’s victory was very similar to their 1-0 win over Montgomery County in the opening round of the 2015 state tournament.
- Warren East shortstop Hailey Hymer interview
- Warren East second baseman Kya Elkin interview
- UPDATED: 2018 Owensboro Health/KHSAA State Softball Tournament bracket
That contest was scoreless until former Warren East star — and now WKU catcher — Kendall Smith produced a sacrifice bunt to score a run and lifted the Lady Raiders to the win.
“Just like in ’15 when Kendall was up — a lot of people didn’t know this but Kendall was one of our best bunters,” McKinney said. “She could control the bat — and Hailey did the same thing, just not as much power.”
While Hymer finished with a hit and two RBI, junior Katie Gardner went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI herself. On the opposite side of the ball, Gardner tossed 13 strikeouts while allowing just two hits and two runs in six innings of work.
Eighth-grader Emma Markham replaced Gardner in the seventh and allowed just one hit while throwing a strikeout to keep Ryle from scoring any further — which included getting Ryle star and University of Kentucky commit Maclai Branson to groundout — and earned the win.
“Could you imagine? What were you doing when you were in eighth grade? I guarantee I wasn’t facing someone that was going to the University of Kentucky and their dad played for the Cincinnati Reds trying to get them out,” said McKinney of Markham.
“Unbelievable job by Markham and an eighth-grader gets the win at state.”
With the Lady Raiders’ win, they’ll now meet Region 16 champion — and undefeated East Carter (38-0) — at 9 a.m. Friday in the winner’s bracket quarterfinals.
The two sides met in the regular-season on May 18, as East Carter — which features Kentucky Miss Softball likely and University of Alabama commit Montana Fouts — escaped with a 2-1 win in nine innings.
“We’ve been in harder situations that have helped prepare us for these games,” Elkin said. “We’ve been very excited to get back to East Carter and get that game and hopefully win.”
After a pitchers duel took place for the first two-and-a-half innings of action, Warren East got its bats going in the bottom of the third.
With two outs and nobody on, Shelby Trent doubled down the right field line to give the Lady Raiders their first baserunner of the game. Taking advantage of the situation, Hymer stepped to the plate and singled up the middle to score Trent and gave Warren East a 1-0 lead.
Ryle responded in the ensuing frame, scoring on a solo home run from Branson to even the scoreboard at 1-all. After allowing the Lady Raiders to plate their first run, Gardner quickly struck out the next two batters to bring East back to bat.
“Katie did nice, and very impressed that Emma stepped in and did her job as a pitcher,” Elkin said.
Just after recording her ninth and tenth strikeouts of the afternoon, Gardner came up big offensively with a solo shot over the left center fence. Her blast put the Lady Raiders back in front at 2-1 at the end of four innings.
Ryle answered again two innings later and tied things at 2-all.
Trailing by a run with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, Morgan Smith laid down a sacrifice groundout to score Branson and make it 2-2.
Warren East went on to record a pair of hits in the bottom half of the frame but weren’t able to get a run across — not until the bottom of the seventh, that is.
After Ryle stranded a runner in the top of the seventh, a trio of Lady Raiders came up big in the final frame.
Leading off the set, Elkin quickly doubled into left field before Trent moved her to third with a sacrifice bunt. With Elkin in scoring position, Hymer perfectly laid down a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher’s mound to give Elkin enough space to cross the plate and send Warren East out on top.
“Just praying that she got it down,” said Elkin of what she was thinking while on third with Hymer up to bat.
RHS – 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 – 2 3 0
WEHS – 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 – 3 9 0
WP: Markham. LP: Bishop.