LOUISVILLE – North Bullitt veteran softball coach Jason Andres felt when the season began that he could have a team that could compete with the elite programs in the Sixth Region.
He was right. It just took a little longer to get to that level than he anticipated.
However, in the end the Lady Eagles reached that lofty goal. The green and gold won another 23rd District title, no surprise, but then cruised past Pleasure Ridge Park 12-7 on Sunday in an opening round game of the Sixth Region Tournament. On Monday, North Bullitt went toe-to-toe against Mercy, ranked among the top 15 teams in the state, and battled to the wire before falling 5-4.
The Lady Eagles had shown signs of life during the regular season, losing to Mercy 5-4 and then closing out the regular season with a 2-0 setback to Bullitt East. On the other hand, the green and gold only had a 7-15 record in the regular season and there were some lopsided losses.
But the team pulled itself together for the post-season and played its best softball down the stretch.
“This was absolutely incredible,” Andres said after meeting with his team following the loss to Mercy on Monday at Ulmer Stadium on the University of Louisville campus. “This is what I said at the first of the year. I thought we could get here and make a statement. Now, I could not be more proud of them.”
Monday was one of the rare situations where North Bullitt benefitted from being the visiting team on the scoreboard. Mercy did not have an opening round game over the weekend after Western High School, a team with an 0-10 record, forfeited the regional game. North Bullitt had played the day before and hit the ball hard in the win over PRP.
Mercy was not settled at the start of the game on the big stage. The Jaguars started sophomore Olivia Colebank, but she was not up to the task.
North Bullitt lead-off hitter Madison Nunn singled sharply to centerfield to start the game and then Colebank walked Evie Brashear. That brought Trinity Burton to the plate and the big-hitting senior topped the ball to the shortstop for an out, but the runners both advanced. Following a strikeout, Mackenzie Phillips walked on five pitches to load the bases.
Next to the plate for the Lady Eagles was Gabrielle Coy. The sophomore looked at the first pitch and then crushed the next one deep over the center field fence for the grand slam.
What has been the Lady Eagles biggest weakness during the season has been defensive miscues. North Bullitt had two of those in the bottom of the first and then a single loaded the bases with no outs. The next batter, Kaden Dunlap, hit the ball sharply to Brashear at third base. She threw to the plate for the force out and then catcher Alia Pearce threw to first. The throw didn’t get the out at first, but the ball came right back to Pearce who tagged out the runner trying to score from second.
Burton then struck out the next batter and let out a roar that showed that North Bullitt was ready to battle.
Colebank didn’t last through the first inning. Mercy brought in junior Maya Merrill who had pitched against Bullitt East in the 24th District final. She would work the rest of the game for the Jaguars, allowing just two hits while striking out eight.
Mercy got on the scoreboard with a run in the second, but the Lady Ealges were still up 4-1 after batting in the top of the fourth.
The fortunes changed at that point as Mercy exploded for four runs. Burton actually got the first two batters of the inning out, but then walked Molly Meagher. Summer Sabo, who had broken Bullitt East’s hopes with a three-run home run that put Mercy ahead, then hit the ball to the fence for a double, scoring Meagher.
Andres, who has often changed pitchers in the middle of games this season, opted to bring in Brashear. The senior walked the first batter she faced and then gave up a three-run home run to senior Dakota Burke.
That was the way the game ended. North Bullitt got an infield single from Burton in the fifth but she was left stranded. Over the last two innings, the Lady Eagles went down in order.
With the win, Mercy advanced to Tuesday’s Sixth Region championship game where they were going to battle Butler. The Bearettes advanced with a 5-3 win over Holy Cross.
NB Beats PRP
The game was delayed 24-hours after rain on Saturday morning, but North Bullitt opened play in the Sixth Region Tournament on Sunday afternoon with a 12-7 victory over visiting Pleasure Ridge Park.
When the Lady Eagles play cleanly on defense this year, they are competitive. When they throw the ball around, they run into trouble.
They did both on Sunday. Early in the game, the green and gold had several miscues including multiple errors on a single play. That allowed the Lady Panthers to jump out to a 4-0 lead after the first three innings. North Bullitt then settled down and played better on defense.
That gave the offense time to get into gear. The green and gold scored three times in the bottom of the fourth. Still, the visitors were ahead 7-4 when North Bullitt came to the plate in the sixth. The Lady Eagles exploded for eight runs to put the game away.
The big spark in the sixth came when sophomore Gabrielle Coy tripled to lead off the inning. She then scored on a single by Bella Markwell. Following an out, freshman Amree Hammons bunted and reached as Markwell drew a throw at third. Lead-off batter Madison Nunn then grounded out, but Markwell scored on the play.
Brashear followed with an infield single. North Bullitt finally pulled even when Burton singled back up the middle, scoring Hammons to make it 7-7. The two out rally continued as both Pearce and Phillips walked, bringing a flurry of pitching changes for the Lady Panthers. Another walk, this one by Coy, made it 9-7 and then Markwell walked with the bases loaded.
Finally, there was a hittable pitch and Kaleigh Stinnett doubled to the outfield, plating the final two runs of the game.
Coy had moved to the circle in the sixth inning and she ended up as the winning pitcher. She got the last three outs of the game in order.
North Bullitt finished with ten hits in the game. Pearce had a two-run home run to open the scoring for the Lady Eagles. Coy had the triple and the team also got doubles from Stinnett and Brashear. Brashear and Markwell each had two hits. Pearce, Markwell and Stinnett each drove home two runs with Coy scoring three times while both Hammons and Pearce crossed the plate twice.