It was hard to tell whether Highlands senior Kennedy Baioni was more valuable at the plate or the pitcher’s circle.
The defending Ninth Region champion Bluebirds were happy to have such a dilemma. Baioni’s two, two-run triples and four runs batted in were more than enough in Tuesday’s 13-0, five-inning mercy-rule win at Conner.
Baioni also threw a no-hitter. She struck out eight and missed a perfect game by two walks – and showed a bit of self-deprecating humor.
“If I could stop walking people, it’d be a better game,” Baioni said. “My drop ball was really effective (Tuesday). Normally, my curveball is my go-to pitch, but I think I only threw three this game.”
Junior catcher Michelle Barth called Baioni’s drop ball “heavy” because of its high spin rate.
“If her drop ball is dropping almost at the beginning of the batter’s box, that would qualify as (heavy),” Barth said.
Baioni said pitching was more important, but Highlands coach Milton Horner mildly disagreed.
“I think she was pretty effective as a hitter, too,” Horner said. “She’s been really hot. She smoked those two balls.”
Horner also said Baioni was the first pitcher to throw a complete game this season. He thought Baioni threw around 80 pitches Tuesday, and he wants her to work up to around 100.
“I’m trying to stretch pitchers out a little bit,” Horner said. “It’s really hard to get game reps in practice. I’m a pretty strong believer in not letting (pitchers) throw too many pitches too early … I want to get Kennedy stretched out.”
Conner coach Shawn Sproles seemed impressed.
“Kennedy’s a good pitcher,” Sproles said. “We know she’s one of the better pitchers in the region. She does a good job of spotting and keeping batters off balance. We still had a lot of girls that were getting their first varsity experience against good pitching, so it was more of a learning situation for them.
Was Baioni the lone contributor on offense? Well, no – Barth added a two-run double and scored three runs, and third baseman Payton Brown singled home one.
But hang on, there was more. Center fielder Bailey Markus was 2-for-4 with three runs scored, and second baseman Morgan Pompilio was 2-for-4.
Highlands (4-1) touched Conner starter Mollie Sharp for five runs in the first inning. Barth’s double to left scored Bailey Markus and Payton Brown, and Baioni’s triple to right center plated Barth and Carley Cramer.
“With hitting, I was hitting where the ball was thrown,” Baioni said. “It just happened to find gaps.”
Baioni scored the fifth run on a wild pitch.
Sharp struck out five.
Conner catcher Averie Lightner was Conner’s (2-3) lone base runner; she walked in the first and fourth and both times reached second on Sharp’s ground out to first.
In the second, Baioni’s second triple sent home Barth and Cramer.
Highlands scored in every frame.
HIGHLANDS — 542-11x-x – 13-11-0
CONNER — 000-00x-x – 0-0-4
WP-Baioni (2-0). LP-Sharp (2-3). 3B-Baioni (H) 2. 2B-Barth (H).