PREP SOFTBALL: Being a No. 1 seed different for Meade County in a three-team district (05/19)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

The good news for the second-seeded Hancock County Lady Hornets (8-18) and the third-seeded Breckinridge County Lady Tigers (4-19) is the winner of their 11th District Tournament semifinal at 6 tonight in Harned gets a berth in next week’s 3rd Region Tournament.

The bad news for those two teams is before they could focus on the region tournament, they would first have to face the top-seeded and 15th-ranked Meade County Lady Waves (22-11) in the district final at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Meade County had no trouble with either team in the regular season.

The Lady Waves shut out Breckinridge County twice in a nine-day span, winning 14-0 on April 23 in Brandenburg and 5-0 on May 1 in Harned.

Although Hancock County is seeded higher than Breckinridge County, the Lady Waves had an even easier time with the Lady Hornets. Meade County won 17-3 on April 21 in Lewisport as Lady Waves sophomore Rachel Ayer set the state record with four home runs in a single game. The Lady Waves pounded Hancock County again May 6 at Meade-Olin Park, 18-3 as sophomore Abby Whelan had three hits and four RBIs and junior Madison Haynes had two hits and three RBIs.

No matter which team the Lady Waves play next, veteran coach Mike Harreld said it’s a relief not to be in a do-or-die situation in a postseason opener.

“It’s good knowing you’re going to the region and you don’t worry about it as much as you used to be when you were in the 17th District and the 5th Region, when the first seed didn’t mean a whole lot because you had to win your way out.”

Meade County was able to win its way out in the regular season against district foes because of one of the top-hitting squads in program history. Ayer and senior shortstop Ashley Nikolao, a University of Louisville signee and the 2012 Area Player of the Year, are the first duo in KHSAA history with both members of the tandem having at least 13 homers in the same season.

Nikolao was on pace for a monster year before suffering a hand injury April 17 against Central Hardin. The tendon injury, which Harreld compared to a severely jammed finger, sidelined Nikolao for seven games and two weeks before she returned in the second Breckinridge County game.

“Nikolao is hitting the ball better. The first week she was back, she was not making great contact,” Harreld said. “We need her stick in the lineup and we need her seeing the ball well. This past week, she started seeing it a lot better.”

With Nikolao out, Ayer picked up the slack, She hit seven homers in a three-game span after having never previously hit more than one homer in a game.

“She was seeing the ball extremely well and she picked us up when we were needing a lift,” Harreld said. “She kind of took over Ashley’s role as a home run hitter for us.”

Whelan and junior Maddie Tabor have hit four homers each — which would make them the top long-ball hitters on some area teams — and junior Elissa Youart and senior Chaselyn Allgeier have also gone long for Meade County, which has hit 37 homers in 33 games.

“I definitely think it’s the top-hitting team we’ve ever had. Defensively we’re about average compared to some of our other teams, but some of those were better defensively and couldn’t hit as well. So as far as just hitting, I would put this one at the top.”

The Lady Waves’ current homer mark is third-most in KHSAA single-season history. Christian County set the state record with 49 in 2011.

“What amazes me the most about this bunch is we’re playing the top teams in the state and they’re still hitting them,” Harreld said. “We’ve gotten home runs from several different people. I would have liked to have had them in some of those one-run games that we lost. I would trade some of those homers for some wins in those games and I’m sure the girls would, too, but I’m pleased we’re hitting it against good caliber teams.”

Meanwhile, Whelan and junior Neeli Rhoads have gotten the job done inside the circle. If the Lady Waves lose their power at the plate, they can expect a charge from the pitching half of the battery.

“They’ve gotten us ground balls and weak fly balls and kept us in games. With Abby we kind of expected it out of her, but Neeli has been a surprise,” said Harreld, noting Rhoads took a perfect game into the final inning against Somerset over the weekend. “As the year has gone on, Neeli has gotten better and better.”

Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at 270-505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.