In a game full of talent and fireworks, it was a pair of late back-to-back home runs from senior Jessie Daniels and freshman Annie Newman that were the deciding factor in a 5-4 win over Owensboro Catholic that sits the Lady Panthers atop the 3rd Region for the fourth straight season.
With seniors Raylee Roby and senior Brooke Hamilton in the circle, the first inning of the night was a quick one—with both teams going down 1-2-3. And after Roby retired the next three she faced in the top of the second, the first hit of the game was a leadoff line drive shot over the right field fence from freshman Annie Newman to make it a 1-0 Daviess County lead.
Brooke also gave up a two-out knock to senior Kaityln Hill, but was able to get sophomore Danielle Beckwith to ground out to short to get out of the inning. The Lady Aces then set themselves up with their first scoring chance of the day, as senior Lilli Grant drew a leadoff walk and then advanced to second on a sac bunt.
It seemed like Roby might work out of the jam after senior Abbie Dukate flew out, but senior Kayley Payne couldn’t corral a fly ball from senior Brooke Hamilton to end the inning—evening things up at 1-1. Payne snagged the next one though, as senior Addison Tignor flew out to send things into the bottom of the third.
The Lady Panthers wasted no time getting back though, as one-out walk and sac bunt had sophomore Sadie Morris at third with Jessie Daniels up and two down. The senior corner infielder laced one to right to the right side for an RBI single that would let Daviess County reclaim a 2-1 lead, but she was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double to end the inning.
But the back-and-forth affair continued in the top of the fourth, as a leadoff single—and Owensboro Catholic’s first hit of the game—and a one-out single from freshman Tyranda Stuart had them rolling. The very next at-bat senior Lilli Grant was able to sneak one just past the left field foul pole, giving the Lady Aces the 4-2 lead.
A walk by junior Maci Merritt and an error by Morris at third followed, putting runners on first and second with Brooke and Bailey Hamilton coming to the plate. Roby was able to stop the bleeding though, retiring them both via fly out to keep things at 4-2 going into the bottom of the fourth.
But just when it seemed like Owensboro Catholic might have momentum swinging its way, the Lady Panthers responded swiftly once again. Newman beat out a chopper to short to leadoff the inning, as freshman Callie Smith reached on an error by Jones at the wall in left before both runners advanced to scoring position on a wild pitch shortly after.
Brooke Hamilton didn’t get rattled though, striking out senior Kaydence Hamilton and senior Kaitlyn Hill for the next two outs. Beckwith couldn’t cash in with the tying run on second either, as she flew out to left and the Lady Aces took their 4-2 lead into the top of the fifth.
Roby proceeded to bounce back with a 1-2-3 inning in the circle as well, and her teammates paid her back for it. A one-out single from Morris got the Lady Panthers in business, but it was a no-doubt two-run shot to center from Daniels that knotted things up at 4-4 in the bottom of the fifth.
Having struck out in her first at-bat of the day on a pitch out zone, it was clear that the corner infielder was less than pleased with herself. The next two at-bats she made count, driving in a team-leading three RBIs on the night.
“I kind of just let it all go,” Daniels said. “I got up there and I was like ‘I’ve been struggling. It can only go up from here.’ So I told myself base hit. That’s what I was thinking. Raylee repeats it over and over again. Base hit. That’s what I was thinking when I went up there.”
And just as it seemed that the red and white faithful couldn’t cheer any louder, Newman lined one over the right field fence for her second homer of the day and gave Daviess County a 5-4 lead. Brooke would get out of the rest of the inning unscathed, but Roby came back to the circle and delivered another 1-2-3 inning to bring the 5-4 lead into the bottom of the sixth.
Brooke Hamilton responded with a 1-2-3 inning of her own though, as Owensboro Catholic went into the seventh needing to scratch across a run down 5-4. But like she has time and time again in her Lady Panthers career, Roby shut the door by allowing just one single en route to the 5-4 3rd Region Championship win.
Raylee finished the game allowing three earned runs on four hits and three walks, while striking out six in the complete game effort. While performances like this are nothing new from the senior righty, Head Coach John Biggs said that she showed once again that no moment is too big.
“Her mannerisms, her body language was the same throughout that whole game,” Biggs said. “But I think once we put that three up you could see a little bit of extra [comfortability] in the circle there.”
Biggs was also proud of his team’s resilient efforts at the plate, saying that they continued to work the count in order to make things happen offensively and came up big when they needed to.
“We just trusted the process, trusted what we’ve done all year,” Biggs said. “We’ve played some tight games lately, so I think that helped. There was never panic in this dugout. Just keep putting good at-bats together. See more pitches, see more pitches.”
Alongside Daniels Annie Newman was one of those players that did just that, coming up big with a pair of opposite field home runs. Being no stranger to the long ball, Biggs would be the first to tell you that she personifies the saying ‘big things come in small packages.’
“It’s amazing,” Biggs said. “It’s amazing what she can do. A girl her size, she doesn’t get cheated at all. Sometimes we have to dial her back a little bit and tell her to be a little more patient, but you know, she’s going to run into one. We kind of live with the good and live with the bad because she’s going to make some plays in the key moments.”
Now the Lady Panthers will return to the state tournament in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 2, looking to continue to make some noise this postseason starting with a battle against the Region 13 Champions at 2 p.m.
Owensboro Catholic on the other hand finishes the season with an overall record of 23-12, falling just short of a region championship. Phelps tipped his cap to Daviess County after the game, saying that Daniels and Newman are special hitters that are capable of producing big moments just like the back-to-back home runs that ultimately led to the win.
“You face that lineup right there, it’s not easy to do…” Phelps said. “I thought she was fine. Two of the home runs we felt like were off the plate where we wanted to pitch at. They just made a good hit. Jessie’s was off the plate. I mean she reached out there and got that ball, but those two can do that.”
While it wasn’t the result they wanted, the Lady Aces are not leaving this season unaccomplished—having battled to get to where they wanted to be at the beginning of the year.
“After we got that first win in district, we sat there and said ‘look we’ve got to play them twice more,’” Phelps said. “We’re going to get back to this game here and that was our whole goal. Get back there and put ourselves in a chance to win and I thought we did. I thought we put ourselves in a sport where we could win the game. It’s tough.”
With eight seniors set to graduate as well, Phelps couldn’t be more thankful for the difference they’ve made in Owensboro Catholic softball and is proud of the final efforts they showed on Wednesday.
“The standard they’ve set [is incredible],” Phelps said. “Learning how to compete and they’ve shown these other classes how to do that. We’ve got some girls that showed a lot of leadership. Being able to fight like that and come back just says a lot about the girls. Nothing but proud of them.”