Magical tournament run comes to an end for Lady Pacers at Semistate

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The tournament run of the Switzerland County Lady Pacer softball team came to an end on Saturday afternoon in the first round of the Forest Park Semistate. Switzerland County fell to South Knox by a score of 11-1, but the final score wasn’t indicative of how hard the Lady Pacers fought throughout the contest.

South Knox took advantage of some early Switzerland County jitters to score nine runs in the first two innings, and after that the Lady Pacers settled down and played the Lady Spartans evenly throughout the rest of the contest, but could never dig themselves out of the early hole.

Switzerland County came into the semistate on a magical run, sporting a record of 10-16 after three Sectional wins and a Regional triumph over Providence. South Knox entered the contest with a record of 20-8.

South Knox opened the game by scoring three runs in the top of the first, when leadoff hitter Kendzie Crockett got a bunt single. On the first pitch to second hitter Janelle Burkhart, Kendzie Crockett took off for second base, but Lady Pacer catcher Kali Carfield fired a bullet to shortstop Hayley South that beat the Lady Spartan to the base, but the Switzerland County crowd roared its disapproval when the umpire called the runner safe. On the next pitch Kendzie Crockett stole third, and suddenly South Knox had a runner on third with no one out.

She scored moments later when Janelle Burkhart hit a grounder to Switzerland County second baseman Ashley Watson, and when first baseman Lauren Edwards let the throw get away, South Knox had another runner.

Two outs later South Knox’s Andrea Scott singled to leftfield, and when the ball got past Lady Pacer Courtney Carfield, Andrea Scott advanced to third and a second run scored. Andrea Scott then scored the third run of the game when Lauren Keller doubled to left center, and Switzerland County found itself in an early hole.

Coach Steven Konkle’s squad responded immediately, with leadoff hitter Ashley Watson drawing a base on balls. She advanced to third moments later when senior shortstop Hayley South drilled a single to center. After Lauren Edwards grounded out to the pitcher, Ashley Watson scored when Kali Carfield grounded sharply to the shortstop. Shelby O’Neal then flied deep to left to end the inning, and after one the score was 3-1 and Switzerland County was right back in the game.

The second inning saw South Knox take control with six runs, as the first two hitters singled; and the bases were loaded with no outs after Kendzie Crockett grounded back to Switzerland County pitcher Mikayla Turner, who tried to get the lead runner at third but didn’t get the call.

Two more singles scored three more runs; but the Lady Pacers saw its defense step up when South Knox’s Shayla Hughes hit a shot that third baseman Shelby O’Neal made an outstanding play on. She then threw home to cut down another possible run.

But the defensive gem wasn’t enough, and after the top of the second, South Knox held a 9-1 lead.

Switzerland County shook off its jitters and put up a strong defensive stand from that point on, but the offense just couldn’t get key hits and critical times, and the innings began to slip away.

Hayley South singled and stole second in the bottom of the third, but the Lady Pacers couldn’t capitalize; and Shelby O’Neal singled in the bottom of the fourth, but she was erased when Susie Reyes hit into a double play.

South Knox pushed across another run in the top of the fifth; and threatened again in the top of the sixth; but an outstanding defensive play by Ashley Watson and a strong throw to Hayley South cut down a South Knox runner to hold the lead at nine.

The Lady Spartans pushed across their final run in the top of the seventh on a double steal; and Switzerland County finished off the game and its season by going out in order in the bottom of the seventh.

Final score: South Knox 11, Switzerland County 1.

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Following the game, Switzerland County head coach Steve Konkle talked about the game.

“I would say that we were just a little bit nervous, especially the kids who haven’t been here before,” the coach said following the game. (The Lady Pacers also played in the Semistate two years ago.) “If you take away the nine runs in the first two innings, it’s a 2-1 game. This is a beautiful field and when you come out here, you want to play your best, and you want all the balls to bounce your way. We had some balls that didn’t bounce our way today.”

Coach Konkle gave credit to South Knox, noting that the Lady Spartans hit the ball off of Lady Pacer pitcher Mikayla Turner as well as any team has hit her this season.

“When you hit the ball hard, that puts pressure on us to make those plays,” Steve Konkle said. “Some plays we made, but didn’t find the right base to get it to, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Even with those miscues, the coach was still very proud of his squad.

“I’m extremely proud of these girls for just sticking with it,” he said. “There were multiple times when they could have just given up. I’m proud of my two seniors (Hayley South and Kali Carfield). They played hurt all year. I’m proud of my juniors who played like seniors. I just can’t say enough about them.”

The coach said that his defense played well after the first two innings; and that even though the Lady Pacers hit the ball well in the semistate game, everything seemed to be right at someone.

“We hit the ball well, but we hit them at good outfielders,” Steven Konkle said. “That’s why they are here and that’s why they had such a good season. They aren’t going to make mistakes and help you out. We had to create our own opportunities, but they didn’t help us. When you get to this caliber, you better ‘hit them where they ain’t’, and we hit them where they were.”

Even though he’s led teams to the semistate two of the past three years, Coach Konkle was not letting the moment get past his squad.

“This one was more fun,” he said of Saturday’s semistate. “The other one was special because it was the first one and some of the things that went on. Special things happen throughout the year. This group is just different. They aren’t the caliber of softball players we’ve had in the past. These are younger players and we aren’t as deep. Our bench is not as deep. Two years ago we had a lot of seniors, and this year we had two.”

Final thoughts?

“I’ll always remember this group,” the coach said. “This is a good example to teams who don’t do well during the season, because once the tournament starts the records really don’t matter. I’m very proud of them.”