|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands freshman Zoie Barth makes a catch in foul ground Friday against Notre Dame. Highlands won 4-0.|
It was just a matter of proving their role as the 9th Region favorites against the Notre Dame Pandas on Friday. The Highlands Ladybirds softball team (17-9 overall) did that with a 4-0 blanking at Winkler Field. The game moved from Notre Dame to Highland Park because Notre Dame's field was too wet from rain earlier in the week. Highlands still played as the visiting team.
Highlands did not beat Notre Dame last year in their the regular season at Winkler Field or in the 9th Region championship at Northern Kentucky last year despite entering the season as favorites to repeat as region champs. The Pandas edged the Ladybirds, 3-2 in the regular season before coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the 9th Region championship to win 5-4.
"It doesn't matter who thinks who's better. It doesn't matter who's better on paper," said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. "When Highlands and Notre Dame play, it's going to be a battle. You throw everything out. A 4-0, a 4-3 win over Notre Dame is always going to be cherished. We left s small village (of runners) on base. But I'd rather it be that way than try to push runs across."
The win Friday marked just the second time Highlands had beaten Notre Dame in the last 10 meetings. The other one was a come-from-behind 8-7 win in the 9th Region championship in 2014. Highlands had not beaten Notre Dame in the regular season since a 12-4 victory on May 17, 2011 at the old field in Death Valley near the high school.
The Highlands defense put together another outstanding game to help the team stay unbeaten in region play at 11-0 making just one error. Notre Dame put the lead-off batter on base in the middle of the game and the next batter tried to bunt her over. But the bat got under the ball too much and freshman third baseman Zoie Barth came over to snag it in the air to keep the runner at first.
"We know that we have to charge bunts to try to get the runners out," Barth said. "We're just trying to get the out every time. I try to stay on my toes and do the best to fill (last year's senior third baseman Whitney Quillen's) shoes. Those are big shoes to fill."
Highlands veteran senior pitcher Bailey Spencer (15-9) scattered five hits in the complete game. She struck out eight and walked just one. Kennedy Baugh had two singles to lead Notre Dame. The Highlands defense made sure hits came back to the infield quickly.
"They're smart. They stay calm in situations which is what we want," Coach Coffey said. "What we really enjoy is they've been through these situations so (the Highlands) outfielders know what to do. The infielders are talking to them. We know that if we play good defense, it takes a lot of hits to beat us. That's why we try to keep runners to (the first base) side of second base."
The Ladybirds put together nine hits against Notre Dame senior pitcher Katelyn Baker. Baker struck out three and walked just one. But Highlands took advantage of that walk in the first inning.
Freshman second baseman Rachel Gabbard led Highlands going 2-for-4 with a run batted in. Senior Shelby Graybill socked a home run in the top of the fifth with Brennah Dutcher and Chloe Jansen doubling.
"You have to do the best for your team that you can do," Gabbard said. "You just have to see the ball and hit the ball. That's wise words from (Cincinnati Reds great) Tony Perez. You can't think. If you think, you're not going to get on base."
Highlands scored the only two runs it needed in the first inning. Baker hit Haley Coffey to lead off the game. Haley Coffey stole second and Graybill walked with one out. Dutcher doubled home Haley Coffey before Graybill scored on a Gabbard ground out.
The Ladybirds made the score 3-0 in the second. Barth singled and Jansen doubled her home. Graybill then hit her seventh home run of the season to make the final score in the fifth.
Highlands faces Ryle and Woodford County in two games at Winkler Field on Saturday. Game times are 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. respectively.