Campbell County softball holds off pesky George Rogers Clark to advance to 10th Region semifinals

G. Michael Graham
G. Michael Graham
Mike Graham covers sports for LINK nky

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The sigh of relief came from the home side and supporters once the ball routinely landed in sophomore left fielder Jayci Kremer’s glove for the 21st and final out.

The six-time 37th District champion Campbell County Camels (20-5) came off the field at Bourbon County holding off a determined 40th District runner-up George Rogers Clark Cardinals squad (10-24) that played better than their record indicates by a 4-3 score. The Camels moved on to the 10th Region semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday against 38th District champion Harrison County.

Campbell County won its first 10th Region quarterfinal game since besting Bracken County in 2019. The Camels also avenged a 14-9 loss to the Cardinals in 10 innings in the same round last year in Mount Sterling.

“We knew this team was a really scrappy team,” Campbell County head coach Sandi Kitchen said of GRC. “This was a tough runner-up to play the first round. We were hungry. We were focused on what we needed to do and I told the girls we weren’t going to win by a lot of runs. It was probably going to be a one-run game and we needed to be ready to pick it out of there.”

Campbell County did it with solid defense and timely hitting. The Camels had just five hits and drew three walks compared to six hits and two walks for the Cardinals.

Three errors in one inning proved costly for GRC, the Camels scoring two off those miscues. The Camels committed one error and didn’t allow any unearned runs.

GRC eighth grade starting pitcher Bella Guinn (3-5) held a Camels offense in check that came in averaging 11.5 runs per game. Guinn struck out three before eighth grader Lilli Hill came on in relief in the sixth inning and struck out one.

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“I think our adrenaline was flowing. We were real excited,” Kitchen said. “This first pitcher threw a little slower than the second pitcher. Really, I felt it was right up our alley. But I feel we were out in front a lot. We were hitting off the end of the bat. We weren’t getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. We had a couple key hits to get us rolling. We just couldn’t get a bunch lumped together until this (fifth) inning.”

Campbell County’s senior pitching duo of Paige Stewart (10-1) and Alex Leicht did the job coaxing a lot of ground balls and fly outs. Stewart struck out three in six innings before Leicht pitched the seventh to earn her fourth save of the season. Campbell County freshman third baseman Hope Hamilton recorded a web gem in the top of the sixth for the first out, deflecting a line drive in foul territory then securing the ball with her body for the out.

“We had a lot tremendous plays,” Leicht said. “Pitchers have to compliment each other. We have to back each other up. We have to be there when the other one is (struggling). It’s a team effort.”

Guinn and Hill batted in the first two spots in the lineup and recorded two hits each. Hill drove in all three Cardinals runs, belting a two-run home run for her sixth this year to put GRC up 2-0 in the top of the third after Guinn singled. Hill then doubled home Guinn after Guinn walked in the top of the fifth to put the Cardinals up 3-2.

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But Campbell County responded in the bottom of both frames after those runs. In the bottom of the third with two out and freshman pinch runner Lilly Phirman on first after Stewart grounded into a fielder’s choice, Hamilton singled Phirman to third. Phirman then swiped home catching the Cardinals not covering home. Hamilton took second on the throw home and scored on a GRC error tying the game, 2-2.

Then in the bottom of the fifth, Leicht led off with a single and eighth grade center fielder Josie Feebeck sacrifice bunted freshman pinch runner Faith Whitford all the way to third after the Cardinals did not cover third on the throw to first. Stewart then grounded out scoring Whitford to tie the game, 3-3.

But the Camels strung some things together to take the lead for good with two out. Hamilton walked and senior first baseman Emily Nadeau doubled her to third. Kremer then came through with a clutch single scoring Hamilton.

“I just scooted up in the box knowing that she threw outside in my first at-bat,” Nadeau said. “When I popped up, I focused on my next at-bat. We can produce one through nine in the lineup. We know if we don’t score runs one inning, we can do it the next inning and have confidence in the girls.”

Campbell County had the chance to add to the lead in the bottom of the sixth when freshman shortstop Sam Perry tripled off Hill. But Hill retired the next three Camels to leave Perry at third.

GRC junior right fielder Kennedy Estep led off the top of the seventh with a single and eighth grader Emma Ensey ran for her. But Feebeck came through with a key defensive play, snagging a line drive off Guinn’s bat and threw back to Nadeau to double up Ensey. Hill then flew out to Kremer for that third out to end the game.

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“Anything that is in my range, I just have the mentality to go attack it. Our whole outfield is always focused,” Feebeck said. “(Nadeau) played a big part in that (double play). I definitely rushed it and she helped me out big day with the pick at first base. I knew there was a runner at first and there was a play to make.”

Campbell County may have a tall task against the Fillies on Wednesday. The two did not meet during the regular season. The Fillies have won the last seven meetings dating back to Campbell County’s last win in 2014 including a victory in the 2017 10th Region championship game. Kitchen said she hopes the Camels play more loose knowing the expectations are on Harrison County.

“We got to see just about the whole Harrison game (a 17-4 six-inning run-ruling of Mason County),” Kitchen said. “If anything, we’ve been intimidated by Harrison. But I feel like watching them, all the girls were commenting. They feel like we can do this and why not? This is the time. We’re here. One game at a time and anything can happen in tournament time.”

Harrison County won the 10th Region Tournament last year and was a state quarterfinalist. Freshman pitcher Bella Persinger (23-6) leads the Fillies with a 2.66 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 166 innings pitched.

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