The Highlands Bluebirds softball team (22-6-1) ventured to Park Hills seeking to finish undefeated in 9th Region action.
Highlands accomplished the feat finishing 11-0 in region play with a 13-4 win over the Notre Dame Pandas (11-7) for the sixth win in a row and seventh in the last eight meetings.
The Pandas kept things interesting until the sixth inning trailing 5-3 before Highlands exploded for seven runs including four unearned to pull away.
“Going undefeated in the region is nice,” said Milt Horner, Highlands head coach. “But our main goal from the beginning has been to improve each and every day. We got the timing down in the sixth in third at-bats. It normally happens the second time around.”
The teams recorded nearly the same number of hits with Highlands batting .355 (11 for 31) overall compared to .346 (9 for 26) for Notre Dame. The Bluebirds recorded four doubles and the Pandas had one.
The difference in the game came defensively. Notre Dame made six errors leading to eight Bluebirds unearned runs and Highlands made just one leading to one unearned run for the Pandas.
“They’re obviously a very good team,” said Joe Stephenson, Notre Dame head coach. “We just have to play better defense all around. We have to get behind our pitchers, especially when we’re not throwing our number one. But they stay short to the ball. They don’t try to do too much with it. They hit it to all parts of the ballpark.”
Highlands switched some players around late in the game trying to mix things up. Freshman Payton Brown moved from left field to shortstop. Brown dove to her right and stopped a ball. She did not make an out in that sixth inning. But she did try to make the routine throw to third.
“Those are very routine,” Brown said. “I’m kind of new to the whole shortstop so I’ve been working on diving. I feel like we all want to do it for each other, rather than our jersey numbers. It’s about the name on the front.”
Junior Michelle Barth led Highlands going 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs batted in. Seventh grader Katherine Heilman ran for Barth three times and scored twice.
The two Highlands outfield sisters in junior Bailey Markus and freshman Cam Markus both went 2-for-3. Bailey Markus scored twice and Cam Markus doubled and scored once.
Brown had the other Highlands double and drove in three. Brown has a team-high 13 doubles this year and Barth has 10.
Highland senior Kennedy Baioni (9-4) pitched the first two innings, striking out three and walking one. Freshman Kaitlyn Dixon pitched the final five innings, striking out three and walking one.
Senior left fielder Tori Danneman went 4-for-4 and scoring once to lead the Pandas. Junior first baseman Emmy Martin went 2-for-3 with sophomore Abby Turnpaugh adding a double.
Senior Rachel Finke (1-3) pitched into the sixth inning, striking out one and walking four. Eighth grader Lucy Dillon finished the game striking out one and walking none.
“We fought and we battled,” Stephenson said. “We have five games this week so we laid out our pitching schedule early. Rachel came in an did a nice job. She kept them off-balanced. We got through five innings then they started hitting the ball better.”
Highlands scored three runs in the top of the first and never gave up the lead. Bailey Markus singled and seventh grade second baseman Layla Zepf reached on an error moving Bailey Markus to third. Brown then hit a sacrifice fly to center after Zepf stole second to make it 1-0 Highlands. Zepf then scored when Barth singled. Freshman Morgan Pompilio ran for Barth and moved to second on a Notre Dame error, third on a wild pitch then scored when Baioni grounded out.
The Bluebirds made it 4-0 in the top of the third. Brown walked, stole second and scored when Baioni doubled.
But the Pandas put together a rally in the bottom of the third. Senior Kayla Northcutt drew a hit by pitch and freshman right fielder Sydney Sheely walked before Danneman singled to load the bases. Eighth grade catcher Addie Zinser then singled in Northcutt and Sheely to make it 4-2 Bluebirds. Danneman advanced to third and Zinser took second on the throw to third.
One out later, Finke laid down a sacrifice bunt and Danneman beat the relay throw from first home for the run. But Dixon got shortstop Ava Auberger to ground out to leave Zinser at third.
Barth doubled to lead off the fifth and Heilman ran for her. Senior third baseman Carly Cramer grounded out moving Heilman to third. Heilman then scored when Pompilio reached on an error to put Highlands up 5-3.
The first seven Highlands runners reached in the top of the sixth. Cam Markus singled then stole second before Bailey Markus walked. Zepf laid down a bunt and reached on a Notre Dame error to load the bases. Brown doubled in the Markus sisters and Zepf moved to third to make it 7-3.
Bath then drew a hit by pitch to reload the bases and Cramer singled in Zepf to put Highlands up 8-3 and Pompilio followed it with a bases-loaded single to make it 9-3 Bluebirds. After a pitching change, Heilman scored on a wild pitch before Heilman scored on a wild pitch. Cramer and Pompilio made it 12-3 Highlands scoring on a passed ball and error.
“It’s definitely a challenge going from lower level softball to varsity high school softball,” Heilman said. “Sometimes your mind goes blank and you really don’t know what to do (on the base paths). You have to go with the flow.”
Notre Dame scored its last run in the bottom of the sixth. Auberger grounded into a fielder’s choice and moved to second on an error before Martin reached on an infield single to load the bases. Northcutt grounded into a fielder’s choice scoring Auberger to make it 12-4 Highlands.
Both teams play again Wednesday. Highlands plays host to defending 8th Region champion Oldham County (17-13) at 6:30 p.m. and Notre Dame plays host to Bishop Brossart (14-14) at 6 p.m.
Bishop Brossart 8, Cooper 7
The Mustangs (14-14) ended a three-game losing streak with an impressive home win over the Jaguars (17-10).
Bishop Brossart batted .296 (8 for 27) overall and drew eight walks. Senior Molly Kramer went 3 for 4 with four RBI and a run scored to lead the way. Twin sister Morgan Kramer went 2 for 3 with one RBI. Junior Maddie Kremer doubled, walked twice, drove in one and scored once. Freshman Rachel Shewmaker drove in two with older sister in senior Brooke Shewmaker and senior Savannah Seiter scoring two runs each.
Morgan Kramer (13-12) pitched a complete game to pick up the win. She struck out two, walked four and allowed two earned runs.
Cooper batted .192 (5 for 26) overall with senior Kendall Blau and freshman Kat Furnish recording doubles. Junior right fielder Kailey Milburn batted in two.
Blau started and pitched into the third inning striking out two and walking two. Freshman Lily Spraker (2-2) took over and pitched through the fifth walking four and seventh grader Taylor Nevels pitched the sixth walking two.
Bishop Brossart travels to Notre Dame on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. game.
Holmes 14, Augusta 3 (5 innings)
Beechwood 17, Calvary Christian 0 (3 innings)
Campbell County 16, Grant County 1 (3 innings)
Gallatin County 16, Holy Cross 14
Villa Madonna 19, Newport 4 (3 innings)
Conner 10, Newport Central Catholic 5
Oldham County 9, Ryle 1
Lloyd Memorial 25, St. Henry 14 (5 innings)
Walton-Verona 14, Boone County 13 (8 innings)
Campbell County 11, Newport Central Catholic 3
Simon Kenton 14, Cooper 4 (5 innings)
Calvary Christian 19, Dayton 7
Harrison County 7, Scott 1
Walton-Verona 13, Henry County 5
Highlands 5, Dixie Heights 4
Bellevue 9, Ludlow 4
Ryle 9, St. Henry 3
Boone County 9, Villa Madonna 4