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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Highlands shuts out Conner in 9th Softball Semifinals

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior catcher Shelby Graybill blasts a home run in Wednesday's 9th Region semifinal contest against Conner. Highlands won 6-0 and will play for its second straight region title Thursday at 5:30 p.m. back at Northern Kentucky University.
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - It seems to be a new Highlands tradition.

The Highlands Ladybirds softball team has lit things up in May the past two years going 28-1 in that crucial month. The end result is a second straight trip to the 9th Region title game against the arch-rival Notre Dame Pandas after shutting out the Conner Lady Cougars, 6-0 Wednesday in the semifinals at Northern Kentucky University.

"We figured if we could put five (runs) on the board, we would have a pretty good shot," said Rob Coffey, Highlands Head Coach. "We're tough to score on. You have to string a lot of hits together to beat us. A lot of our fundamentals are paying off now."

Game time is 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the same location. Notre Dame edged Ryle, 2-1 in the second semifinal contest.

In three years with Coffey as head coach, the Ladybirds have at least made the 9th Region semifinals. They rallied past Notre Dame, 8-7 in the region title game last year after losing to the Pandas, 3-0 in the semifinals in 2013.

Highlands (24-8) has won 15 of its last 16 games to reach this point after winning 19 in a row into the state tournament last year. The Ladybirds have outscored their four postseason opponents, 35-1 with three straight shutouts. Highlands has 11 shutouts on the season and moved to 20-0 when holding opponents to one or no runs.

The difference in this game came in the right column of the box score. Conner recorded five errors and Highlands had none.

"It all starts in the fall. We all get ground balls quick," Haley Coffey said. "Everyone is running around working as hard. With the errors, that's just amazing. We win when we execute."

Conner (26-6) only saw three runners reach base on three singles and only one reached second base. At one point, Highlands junior pitcher Bailey Spencer retired 17 Lady Cougar batters in a row. Only four balls off the Conner bats even made it past the infield.

"When Bailey is dealing like she is now, I have to give credit to our infield," Coach Coffey said. "Our infield takes pride in not letting balls go out of the infield. That helps our game. We take balls off our chest and play through it. Any one of our infielders would take a bullet for Bailey to not let the ball through."

Conner center fielder Jenna Hicks had two of those singles. She singled to lead off the first and Hannah Darling bunted her to second. But Spencer retired the next two batters.

Hick then recorded the next Conner hit with two out in the sixth inning. But Darling popped out leaving her at third. Then in the seventh inning, Conner right fielder Alexa Snelbaker singled with two out and Corin Crawford ran for her. But Elizabeth Sims popped out to Highlands shortstop Haley Coffey to leave her at first and end the game.

Offensively, Highlands recorded 10 hits. Senior lead-off hitter Whitney Quillen led the Ladybirds going 3-for-4 with two triples. Quillen has six triples on the season including three in the postseason. Quillen scored after the two triples. Shelby Graybill hit a sacrifice fly to left to score her in the third to make it 3-0 Ladybirds. She also scored to lead off the fifth when the Conner outfielder missed the cut-off. That gave Highlands a 4-0 advantage.

"I was just trying to do my job getting on base for my teammates to get me in," Quillen said. "I try to reassure (my teammates) that everything is alright. It's just another game. We all came out and contributed so I'm really proud."

Haley Coffey and Brennah Dutcher recorded two singles each for Highlands. Dutcher batted in two and Graybill had three RBI.

Highlands scored twice in the top of the first and never looked back. Haley Coffey singled off Sims before Shelby Graybill beat out a throw from Conner shortstop Bethany Maines after Maines looked Haley Coffey back to second. With two out, Dutcher doubled Haley Coffey and Graybill home.

The Ladybirds added two more runs in the fifth. Haley Coffey singled and Shelby Graybill blasted one over the center field wall. That made the final score of 6-0 as Quillen, Haley Coffey and Graybill all scored twice.

Both Spencer and Sims pitched the entire game. Sims struck out five and Spencer rung up three.

"I've seen (Sims) be almost unhittable at times," Coach Coffey said. "She gets in the groove and gets you thinking about what's coming next. She has enough speed that she can throw it by you when her off-speed stuff is working. We put the ball against her. That was our goal."

The Ladybirds want another chance in Owensboro after going 1-2 in the state tournament last year. Highlands beat Estill County to open the tournament before losing to Owensboro Apollo and Ashland the next day. Notre Dame went 1-2 in the tournament the previous year.

9th Region Softball Semifinals:

Teams:                                        R   H   E
Highlands (24-8)  201 030 0  --  6   10  0
Conner (23-8)       000 000 0 --   0    3   5

Highlands Leading Hitters:
Whitney Quillen - 3-for-4, Two Triples, Two runs scored.
Haley Coffey - 2-for-3, Two runs scored.
Brennah Dutcher - 2-for-3, Double, Two RBI.
Shelby Graybill - 1-for-2, Home Run, Walk, Three RBI.

Highlands Pitcher:
                                    IP   K   BB  H   R   ER
Bailey Spencer (W)     7     3     0    3    0     0

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