WHITLEY COUNTY – The Tigers have done it again! Clay County defended their 13thregion title, winning their 2ndconsecutive as they defeated North Laurel 3-0 in the championship on Wednesday evening. “We put the roof on our house last season, and wanted to add another room this year,” said a thrilled Tiger coach Jamie Gilbert. “Words can’t describe how proud I am of these girls,” he added.
Clay would defeat North Laurel for the 3rdtime since April 30th, a feat that seemed impossible just a few years ago. “I reminded the team that they have the opportunity to make the program more special than last season,” said Gilbert. “This was the same field that Tiger Softball won its first ever regional tournament on in 2002, just to remind them of how far this program has come, and how they’ve made it even better.”
This contest was a rubber match in its purest form. The region’s top two pitchers went head-to-head, with Brianda Owens once again coming out on top. Owens, who hasn’t given up a run since May 17th, tossed a complete game, giving up only four hits, while striking out eight Jaguars. Clay would out-hit the Jags 8-4 as well.
Scoreless through the first inning, the Tigers shook their nerves and found the scoreboard in the 2ndinning as Owens would lead off with a double, setting up an RBI double from Hailey Napier. Ellie Finley would smack a line drive to the wall scoring Allie Rose Phillips, advantage 2-0, Tigers.
The Tiger defense would shut down North Laurel in the 3rdinning, as the Jags had plenty of fight in them still yet. Clay would score their 3rdand final run in the top of the 3rdinning, as Owens would double yet again to score Maddie Frazier from 2ndbase.
Typically, the Tiger offense runs like a fine-tuned machine. However, Coach Gilbert knows the low scoring affair was simply due to having a worthy opponent. “Our lack of runs scored was largely in part because we played a very good North Laurel team,” said Gilbert. “They made big play after big play. Small ball was difficult because of the field surface, but you adjust to those situations and move forward.”
Gilbert also acknowledged how hard it is to defeat a solid opponent three-times in the same season. “This was our 3rdtime playing them this year, and they did a fantastic job of positioning their defense on us,” he said. “We still have to be more relaxed at the plate and patient in order to get their pitch to swing at. We also still have work to do on adjusting to different umpires’ strike zones. As a coach, all you can ask for is consistency, and that’s what we got.”
This Clay County team experienced the state tournament last year, now they go in with a head of steam and more knowledge. “I think we will be much more relaxed this season,” said Gilbert. “We aim to improve on our trip this season as opposed to last year. The tournament is in a different format, where it’s single elimination instead of double elimination. So naturally, if you lose, you’re done.”
Coach Gilbert is using this platform to thank everyone who has supported and assisted the Tiger Softball program in any capacity. “I want to thank my assistant coaches, Jason Rice and Quint Roberts for all the help they provide to this team,” he stated. “You cannot have a great team without quality people helping you. Also, a huge shout out to our fans, as they traveled each day and gave us unrivaled support. You can’t measure the importance of that, and I hope they support us at state.”
The Tigers will meet the winner of the 14thregion (Wolfe County or Perry Central) at 1:00PM on Saturday, June 1stat Berea College. This will be a sectional, as the state semi-final and final games will be held at the University of Kentucky.
Batting – Emma Hurd (1-4); Maddie Frazier (2-3); Brianda Owens (2-3); Hailey Napier (1-3); Tori North (1-3); Ellie Finley (1-3). Pitching – Brianda Owens (W) 7.0 IP, 4 hits, 8 K’s.