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WARSAW – Oldham County's four seniors won't finish their careers the way they hoped, with a third straight trip to the state tournament.
But if the Lady Colonels weren't going to end this season in Owensboro, they wanted to go out "leaving it all out on the field," senior right fielder Bri Cook said.
They definitely did that Wednesday night.
OC battled back-and-forth for three hours against Anderson County before Kaci Currens' go-ahead solo home run lifted the Lady Bearcats to a 4-3, 12-inning win in the Region 8 title game at Gallatin County.
Anderson advances to the state tournament for the first time since 2008, while the Lady Colonels will be staying home after going in 2012 and '13.
“This game is definitely the best game we've ever played,” Cook said. “If I had to lose, I'd rather lose like this than any other way."
The marathon game, which fell two innings short of equaling two full games, featured clutch performances from both sides.
Sophomore right-hander Kirsten Smith pitched all 12 innings for OC, giving up just four runs. After allowing Anderson to score runs in the first and third innings, she didn't allow another until the 11th.
Not to be outdone, counterpart Ally Moore pitched the final nine innings for Anderson, allowing just one run.
OC freshman first baseman Delaney Sowell had her shining moment, hitting a home run to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning. The solo shot, which tied the game back at 3-3 after the Lady Bearcats scored a run in the top of the inning, was the first in Sowell's career.
Anderson's Currens was just as clutch. She knocked in three of the Lady Bearcats' four runs and hit the decisive homer in the 12th.
“It's tough to lose a game like that,” Lady Colonel coach Steve Leanhart said. “Your girls don't give up and they keep fighting. The whole year they've been playing so tough.”
The Lady Bearcats made the game look like it wouldn't be close at all early on.
With runners at first and second and one out in the top of the first, Currens hit a double to score Molly Burkhead and put Anderson up 1-0. Smith battled back, striking out Mia Aldridge and Autumn Beasley to strand two Lady Bearcats in scoring position.
Anderson made the lead 2-0 in the third when Currens hit a sacrifice fly to OC freshman center fielder Payton Hamm, scoring Burkhead.
OC responded with a rally off Aldridge, the Lady Bearcats' starting pitcher, in the bottom of the third.
Senior left fielder Madi Reed got it started with a one-out single. Hamm then reached on an error, putting runners on first and second with one out.
Senior shortstop Ryane Shelton drew a walk to load the bases.
Senior third baseman KK Rigdon hit a hard ground ball to second baseman Currens, who dove and touched second to force Shelton out. But Reed scored on the play to cut the margin to 2-1.
After Sowell worked a walk, Smith hit a single to score Hamm and tie the game at 2-2. Rigdon got caught in a rundown between third base and home and was tagged out while trying to score the go-ahead run.
After that inning the game became a pitcher's duel between Smith and Moore, who relieved Aldridge for the fourth inning.
Smith didn't surrender another hit until a Burkhead single to lead off the 10th inning.
“I can't even put it into words how proud I am of her,” Cook said of Smith. “...She pitched the best game I've probably ever seen her pitch."
Smith executed Leanhart's game plan of dealing with Anderson catcher and No. 3 hitter Bailey Curry, which was to pitch around her. Smith walked Curry in her first five plate appearances before getting her to pop out in the infield to lead off the 12th.
“We pitched around her, pitched around her and then the last at-bat I said, 'Let's try to get her,' so we jammed her up and it worked,” Leanhart said. “... We try to stay away from her.”
Moore was just as effective. She didn't allow a hit until a Hamm single to lead off the eighth.
She ended that inning by striking Sowell out looking with Hamm, the potential winning run, standing on third.
Moore allowed a two-out double to OC 8th grade second baseman Taylor Sheller in the ninth, but came back to strike Cook out and send the game to a 10th inning.
After the teams traded scoreless frames from the fourth through the 10th, the Lady Bearcats notched their third run in the top of the 11th.
Beasley hit a single to left field and advanced to second when Reed bobbled the ball. Marissa Walker flied out to Reed for the first out, but Alissa Vest then hit an RBI single to score Beasley and give Anderson the lead.
Sowell, OC's leadoff hitter in the bottom of the 11th, didn't take long to respond. The lefty knocked a Moore offering over the right-field fence to tie the game at 3-3.
“She's got the swing to do it,” Leanhart said of Sowell. “...She's got the power and to be a freshman, she's a tough kid there."
Added Cook: “She definitely gave us all hope. I know some of us had our heads down but after that we were right back up.”
Smith followed with a single and was bunted to second on a sacrifice by sophomore catcher Whitney Leanhart.
But Sheller struck out looking and Cook fouled out to first to end the inning.
Smith got Curry to pop out to begin the 12th, but then threw a pitch that Currens hit well over the center-field wall, giving the Lady Bearcats the lead back.
Smith responded by striking out Moore and getting Beasley to fly out, but Currens' shot proved to be the difference.
Reed led off the OC 12th with a single. After a Hamm pop-out, Reed advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Shelton grounded out for the second out, moving Hamm to third. That brought Rigdon, who had the go-ahead single in the Lady Colonels' 2-1 win against Gallatin Tuesday, to the plate.
This time Rigdon got unlucky, hitting the ball hard but right at Currens at second, who threw on to first to end the game and end OC's season.
The loss ended the high school careers of Cook, Reed, Rigdon and Shelton, who were freshman when Leanhart took over the program in 2011. During that time they won four straight district regular season and tournament titles and went to two state tournaments.
They provided the leadership for a team that started two sophomores (Smith, Whitney Leanhart), two freshmen (Hamm, Sowell) and an 8th grader (Sheller) this year.
They've helped me out through the whole program,” Steve Leanhart said. “And just being leaders this year with the younger group that we have, because we have no juniors... it's a big leadership they put on this year."
Cook predicted the young Lady Colonels to take the region title back in 2015. She said when she looks back at her OC career, Wednesday's marathon was the game she'll think of.
“We gave it our all, that's for sure,” Cook said. “I've never played in a game that lasted that long and was that intense and I'm extremely, extremely proud of our girls."
Anderson County (27-8) 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 – 4 6 3
Oldham County (23-12-1) 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 – 3 8 2