Lady Raiders battle past Spartans for Region 4 title
Last season ended in heartbreak.
Now the Lady Raiders are celebrating.
After suffering a tough 3-2 loss to South Warren in last year’s region championship, Warren East flipped the script in 2018 and beat its archival Spartans 11-5 on Friday evening in the Region 4 Softball Tournament championship at the WKU Softball Complex.
“After being defeated last year, we came out and we had to give it our all just to get back to state,” Warren East junior pitcher Katie Gardner said. “Being able to win means a lot and to be able to do it for coach ’T’ (Tim McKinney) means even more.”
While 2017 ended earlier than the Lady Raiders (29-4) had hoped, this year’s group has now led the program back to the state tournament for the first time since 2015.
WEHS will meet Region 9 champion Ryle in the opening round of the KHSAA State Softball Tournament next Thursday at 5 p.m. CT at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro.
“It feels amazing,” Warren East senior catcher Ashton Akins said. “South beat us (twice) in the regular-season, and we came out in the District (14) Tournament and hopped on them and it felt good. Then tonight we knew what we could do. We got the bats rolling — and it feels amazing.”
As the past two regional championship meetings between Warren East and South Warren were all-out battles, the 2018 showcase wasn’t any different.
The Spartans (22-8) started hot and jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but the Lady Raiders didn’t get rattled. Instead, they went on to score nine unanswered runs and never looked back.
“Unbelievable job by South — and us,” Warren East coach Phillip McKinney said. “South punched us right in the mouth. Jess (Bush) hits a grand slam — she took a rise ball in and she drove it out for a grand slam. But our girls didn’t flench. They got back up and started punching back.
Warren East finished with 16 hits — two of those being home runs — on the night as Olivia Price recorded three hits and Gardner finished with two to go along with three RBI. Alongside that duo, Lucy Patterson delivered three singles with an RBI of her own.
On the opposite side of the ball, Katie Gardner and eighth-grader Emma Markham combined to hold an offensive powered South Warren squad to just five runs — and none over the course of the final four innings.
South Warren — which recorded 10 hits — was led by the sophomore Bush’s grand slam, which drove in four RBI. Taylor Enlow started on the mound for the Spartans, while Emily Reynolds came in to relive her.
After Enlow and the Spartans took Warren East down in order in the top of the first, South Warren’s offense answered in the bottom half of the frame.
Gardner retired the first two Spartan batters with a pair of fly outs, but Bush then reached on a fielding error in center field to give South Warren a baserunner. In the next at-bat, Madison Stumbo delivered a two-out single into left field to score Bush and gave the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
“I was proud of the girls,” South Warren coach Kelly Reynolds said. “They put 10 hits up on Katie Gardner, which says a lot. She’s a great pitcher, she moves the ball around really well. We had a few mishaps there with defense and a few missed pitches.”
As it’s accustomed to doing, Warren East fired right back in the ensuing frame — and in a big way.
Trailing by a run, Jeyda Bays and Gardner produced back-to-back solo home runs over the same fence spot in center to quickly put the Lady Raiders in front 2-1. Price gave East another hit on a single to left center but was later called out for leaving the base too early on a foul ball.
South Warren wasn’t rattled by Warren East’s two-run inning but instead extra motivated.
Just after allowing a pair of home runs, the Spartans exploded for a five-hit, four-run frame of their own — highlighted by the grand slam from Bush — in the bottom of the third.
“Going into this game we knew South was a good team and we knew that they would hit the ball,” Akins said. “Coach told us if they did get up to keep our energy up and stay positive and never drop. We did just that tonight — even after that home run.”
Following back-to-back singles by Alexis Helderman and Lauren Martin and a bunt single from Abbey Mills, Bush stepped to the plate and came up clutch, taking a hard swing at a pitch down the middle and sending it over the fence in the left corner.
Her blast put South Warren back in front by a score of 5-2.
But Warren East wasn’t going away.
“After that grand slam, I know everyone dropped,” Gardner said. “So we had to pick each other up and we came back and hit like we were supposed to and we got the runs that we needed.”
Two innings after the Spartans built a three-run advantage, the Lady Raiders battled back. Following back-to-back singles from Kelsey Sparks and Patterson, and a walk that put Gardner on and loaded the bases, Price delivered a two-out, two-run double to bring East to within 5-4.
The Lady Raiders’ bats continued to stay hot from there, as they went on to add three runs to their side of the scoreboard in the next inning.
Trailing 5-4, Patterson singled to score Shelby Trent and tied it at 5-all. Then, with two outs, Gardner delivered a two-run double into the outfield with two outs to give Warren East a 7-5 lead.
“Unreal just the way they got back up and continued to play softball,” said McKinney. “The level of high school softball tonight was just unreal.”
Warren East unloaded for four runs in the top of the seventh to put South Warren away for good.
Taking advantage of three Spartan errors and a pair of big hits, the Lady Raiders scored on a solo shot from Ashton Akins, a sacrifice fly by Shelby Trent and plated two runs on one of the errors to go up 11-5 — and the board remained the same from there.
“We knew going in there has to be a team that comes out the champion and a team that comes out the runner-up,” Reynolds said. “I hate it for our girls and I hate it for our seniors, but I think all-in-all we’ve had a very good season. We just kinda got down and it was hard to come back.”
WEHS – 0 2 0 0 2 3 4 – 11 16 1
SWHS – 1 0 4 0 0 0 0 – 5 10 4
WP: Gardner. LP: Reynolds.