With runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, trailing 2-1 in the 4th Region Championship game, South Warren could not have found a better time to bring WKU signee Shelby Nunn to the plate.
After watching her team accomplish the same feat from the dugout after an injury put her out last season, the senior took advantage of her chance to do something big, hitting a two-run walk-off single to lift the Lady Spartans to a 3-2 win over the Warren East Lady Raiders and punching their ticket to next week’s State Softball Tournament in Owensboro.
With an 0-2 count and South Warren fans cheering her on and Warren East fans cheering for the last strike, Nunn had to dig deep to find her confidence.More Coverage:
“(The pressure) was crazy,” she said. “I just tried to block out all of the background noise and just think about the game. When I got to 0-2, I told myself ‘this is not going to be good.’ I took a gamble swinging at that pitch. I was really just looking for a base hit.
I didn’t even see the second run come in. I just heard all of the noise and looked at the scoreboard and thought ‘oh my gosh, we just won the game.’”
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Warren East shortstop Hailey Hymer (24) makes the out as second base as South Warren's Ashley White (17) attempts to slide in Thursday evening's 4th Region Championship game at the WKU Softball Complex./Photo by Paul Gray.[/caption]
In a game that saw Warren East (27-7) in the driver’s seat for most of the evening, South Warren head coach Chris Riggs felt tested by his team.
“The girls were trying to see how frustrated they could get me tonight, and again tonight, we waited until the last minute,” he said. “It speaks volumes about their character and I’m really proud of them.”
Still, Riggs credits his senior pitcher for getting the job done, as Nunn struck out seven batters to add to her walk-off.
“It was really tough for (Shelby) last year. It means so much to me for her to be able to come back as a senior and to experience this type of atmosphere. We had a couple of innings that (East) could have really blown the lead open, but she did a good job of pitching her way out of it.”
“I knew I had a great defense behind me, so I didn’t have to strike everyone out,” said Nunn on her pitching mentality. “It’s all that I could ever ask for as a pitcher.”
The Lady Raiders threw the first punch of the game, scoring two runs in the top of the third inning on Katie Gardner’s RBI single to score Nicki Gibbs and an error at first base to score Olivia Price.
South Warren (32-3) threatened in the bottom of the fourth inning, getting runners on first and third before a strikeout ended the inning.
The Lady Spartans got two runners on base one inning later but again left them stranded on a ground out.
After Katie Gardner struck out Madison Stumbo to start the bottom of the seventh inning, Bailee Collins reached on an error as Jeyda Bays could not get a clean handle on a throw to first base.
“I told Bailee (Collins) that if she could get a bunt down and get that lineup rolled over, we have a chance to win this thing,” said Riggs.
The next at-bat, Katie Conley popped out on a botched bunt to Bays for the second out, bringing up the top of the order for South Warren.
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South Warren's Alexis Isable connects on a pitch in the Lady Spartans' 4th Region Championship Game against Warren East at the WKU Softball Complex on Thursday evening./Photo by Doug Thompson.[/caption]
Alexis Isable sent a line drive single to center field to put Collins on second base in the next at-bat, bringing up Lauren Martin.
Facing an 0-2 count, Martin belted an RBI double to center field to score Collins, put Isable at third, and to put her courtesy runner, Abbey Mills, on second to represent the winning run.
Then up came Nunn.
With a 1-2 count and the season on the line, she squeezed a hard grounder just past the glove of second baseman Kya Elkin, scoring the two winning runs.
The Lady Spartans recorded six hits on the evening, two of them from Nunn. Warren East had five hits, two apiece from Price and Kendall Smith. Katie Gardner put in an amazing effort but took the loss for the Lady Raiders, striking out 11 batters.
With the win, South Warren advances to face 5th Region Champion Central Hardin (31-8) in the first round of the KHSAA Fast Pitch Softball Tournament at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro on Thursday, June 8th at 5:00 p.m. on the Red Field.
“You look across the state, this is one of the toughest regions to get out of,” said Riggs about his team’s win. “I’m just so proud of the way our girls fought. I’m kind of speechless, to be honest.”