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The 23rd-ranked Central Hardin Lady Bruins were wide awake in their season debut at home Tuesday night, putting LaRue County on its heels early.
After the Lady Hawks put up a spirited rally, the Lady Bruins awoke from their sudden offensive slumber to subdue their 5th Region rival.
Led by All-Region sophomore shortstop Kelsey McGuffin’s two-run single that gave her team the lead for good, the Lady Bruins’ final four hits came in their three-run fifth inning as Central Hardin topped the Lady Hawks, 8-5.
“We kind of lost our focus there in the middle of the game,” said McGuffin, who was 1-of-8 Lady Bruins with a hit or run. “We need to be more consistent throughout the game with our hitting spurts.”
The Lady Bruins got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first and made the Lady Hawks (1-4) pay in the bottom of the inning with three runs as junior right fielder April Pence had a RBI single two batters before sophomore first baseman Shelby Maggard hit a two-run single.
But outside of the first and fifth innings, the normally potent Lady Bruins didn’t have a hit.
“We discussed that after the game,” said Central Hardin coach Jamie Goodman. “Our offense was only there for a couple of innings and we need to be much more level with our offense.”
Central Hardin junior pitcher Jessica Nall (1-0) shut out LaRue County the first three innings before junior third baseman Courtney Johnson got LaRue County’s offense on track with a solo home run to deep center field.
“She has really worked on her offense in the offseason,” said LaRue County coach Aaron Howell, who had dropped Johnson from cleanup to the No. 5 spot in the order at Johnson’s request. “It was her idea. She came up to me and ‘Coach, I’m just not getting the job done there.’ And that’s just the type of kid she is. She’s honest with you and she’s a true team player.
“But we may have to keep her there,” he added. “She didn’t do a bad job in the fifth spot.”
Johnson didn’t do a bad job in the fifth inning, either. With the bases loaded thanks to singles from junior center fielder Peyton Gardner and junior pitcher Brigitte Skaggs and a walk to sophomore shortstop Trishtian Cruse, Johnson could have been too aggressive at the plate. Instead, she drew a bases-loaded walk to pull the Lady Hawks within 3-2 two batters before sophomore first baseman Emillee Cundiff gave the Lady Hawks their only lead at 4-3 on a two-run single to left.
“We put up a good fight,” Howell said. “And they’re a good team.”
A good team which quickly regained its offensive form in the bottom of the inning.
Senior second baseman Jordan Lasley, the coaches’ Preseason Region Player of the Year, smoked a double to center to ignite the Lady Bruins’ rally. Freshman catcher Mariah Bryant followed with a single to left before McGuffin plated them both and eventually took third base after a throwing error on her single to center. Pence followed with a single to score McGuffin.
“LaRue County did a good job and hit some shots at us,” McGuffin said of the Lady Hawks, who had nine hits and four earned runs off Nall. “That was a wake-up call to us that we needed to start playing our game and back up Jess.”
Central Hardin tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the sixth inning as junior reserve Amber Hiller and seventh-grade pinch-runner Meredith Jones both scored after the Lady Hawks committed an error – their fourth of the game compared to Central Hardin’s flawless defensive effort – on a groundout by Lasley.
“We work a lot on our defense and I think we’ll be pretty good on defense,” McGuffin said. “But in order for Jess to do good, we have to be good behind her.”
Nall admitted she doesn’t like pitching in cold weather, but she was still effective enough to allow the Lady Bruins to extend their regular-season winning streak over region foes to 29.
“I didn’t do very well today and it wasn’t my best. I was just wild,” said Nall, a preseason All-Region selection. “But I never got nervous because I knew my team had my back.”
CENTRAL HARDIN 8, LARUE COUNTY 5
R H E
LaRue County 000 130 1 5 9 4
Central Hardin 300 032 x 8 7 0
Brigitte Skaggs and Jill Hughes. Jessica Nall and Mariah Bryant. WP: Nall (1-0). LP: Skaggs (1-3). 2B: Jordan Lasley (CH), Skaggs (LC), Hughes (LC). HR: Courtney Johnson (LC).
UP NEXT: Central Hardin plays at Bullitt Central at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. LaRue County plays at Thomas Nelson at 7 tonight.
Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at (270) 505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org