Jun. 20—LEXINGTON — Lewis County still had reason to celebrate on Saturday afternoon.
Of course, the Lady Lions wanted to compete for a state title the following day, but they achieved a feat that hasn’t been done in the program’s history and something that hadn’t been accomplished in any sport in over four decades.
Lewis County fell to Daviess County, 6-2, in its first state semifinal game at John Cropp Stadium and in the process, the club was rewarded with a lifetime of memories.
The Lady Lions trophy case keeps getting bigger. The team will return to Vanceburg with its newly acquired hardware. It will be a welcome addition to Lewis County’s first 16th Region Tournament championship trophy it earned last week.
“It was a little bigger than the district trophies we got,” Lewis County coach Joe Hampton said with a proud grin. “We haven’t had the region one long enough to get used to it. … We liked the feel of (the state semifinal trophy).
“The girls deserve it,” he added. “I am super proud of them. I am very proud of where we are at, and I hope they have the desire to get back here and get to the next level.”
Lady Panthers coach John Biggs can relate to Hampton’s sentiments as his team marked a milestone with the victory. Daviess County, the Third Region champion, will play in its first-ever fast-pitch state final against Butler on Sunday.
“It’s been a process,” said Biggs, who is completing his 12th season in charge of the Lady Panthers. “When we took over the program, we were definitely not the perennial power in that area. Over time, we’ve felt like we have done it the right way. We have a lot of kids in our program. We think we can continue this and sustain this (success).”
The Lady Lions were the only team to gain a win on the opening day of the state tournament. Teams battled weather delays before the semi-state round was completed.
Lewis County had a week to prepare for seventh-ranked Boyle County. The Lady Lions followed that victory with a matchup against No. 9 Daviess County 24 hours later.
Hampton was pleased with how his team competed on the big stage and their production at the plate during the postseason.
“I talked about that in the dugout going into the sixth inning,” Hampton said. “I was wondering how many strikeouts we had. It was only five total. It was a stronger wind today. I thought we made decent contact and we got stronger at the plate as the game went on.”
“We had some long faces,” he continued. “It’s hard to bring them back after things don’t go right. When we scored two runs in the sixth inning, I could see some light come back in their faces. We didn’t lay down. I thought we put the bat on the ball pretty well. We just hit it at people today.”
Lewis County (23-9) had just two hits off Lady Panthers starter Raylee Roby through the first five frames. The sophomore had a season ERA of 1.55 entering the contest. Daviess County allowed just 94 runs through 40 games.
The Lady Lions offense struck quickly in the sixth. Maddie Johnson doubled down the right-field line that escaped the glove of a diving infielder.
Kayla Sullivan and Sarah Paige Weddington followed the two-bagger with consecutive RBI singles to get Lewis County on the board as the team found a late-game spark.
Weddington made it to third base with the help of a two-base Lady Panther error, but Roby pitched out of the jam with a pair of fly-ball outs.
“We discussed it after the third inning and we felt like she could elevate some of her pitches,” Biggs said of Roby. “The two hits that they got late were from pitches down in the zone. We got ourselves on the same page.”
Daviess County’s Miller Roberts walked in the first inning and teammate Jessie Daniels turned it into a run. Her sharply hit double glanced off the Lewis County first baseman’s glove, giving courtesy runner Sadie Morris plenty of time to scamper to the plate.
“We have the ability to sit on some pitches and get people on base,” Biggs said. “We can cause some problems and put a crooked number (on the scoreboard). Obviously, when you can increase the number from one to six, you can play a little more relaxed. We wanted to keep putting the pressure on and get people on the bases.”
The Lady Panthers cushioned their lead with five runs in the third stanza. Abby Newman singled with a runner on base. Hattie Newman supplied a bunt single, and Roberts bounced into a fielder’ choice. A run scored and an errant throw to the plate allowed Daviess County (34-8) to push another across.
The Lady Panthers had not recorded an out in the inning when Daniels stepped in the batter’s box. She belted a three-run homer into the netting in left field to give her team a 6-0 advantage.
“I felt like we should have been out of that inning before (Daniels) got to the plate,” Hampton said. “We thought we had a strike three and it was called ball four. That one pitch could have made a big difference. We had a few miscues behind (Emily Cole) today that we did not have (on Friday). Sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Cole produced another stellar outing in the circle for the Lady Lions. She hurled 145 pitches on Saturday, totaled 10 strikeouts and retired eight straight batters during a stretch in the middle innings.
Cole and Sullivan were named to the state All-Tournament team.
Roby collected the win for the Lady Panthers. She recorded a 1-2-3 seventh inning to seal the win. Daniels tallied four RBIs. Roberts was 1 for 2.
“We have talked about it all year,” Biggs said. “It’s been one step at a time. The only thing we were focused on today was Lewis County. That was it. … We are going to step back and relax. When you get in this type of situation, you have to do it. We had a quick turnaround in our district tournament. We haven’t had a whole lot of time to sit back and really see what we have done.”
Hampton believes success comes with expectations. The Lady Lions graduate two seniors, but the majority of the roster returns. The veteran basketball coach and first-year softball skipper feels his new club is up for the challenge.
“I think the target will be there,” Hampton said. “It’s a good thing for these girls. It shows we have got the program to that level. It hasn’t been easy since Game 1 of the district tournament. There were no guarantees getting out of there. Now, here we are on a Saturday in Lexington. It’s been a hard battle and I am very proud of them.”
“They know what they accomplished,” he added. “There is a ton of pride in that. There were locker rooms in basketball where we had to go through those last games. When you have a special year like they did, I told them don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
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DAVIESS CO. 105 000 0 — 6 7 2
LEWIS CO. 000 002 0 — 2 5 3
R. Roby and Roberts; Cole and Tackett. W—R. Roby. L—Cole. 2B—Daniels (DC), Johnson (LC). HR—Daniels (DC).