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PREP SOFTBALL: Central Hardin reaches seventh straight district title game (05/21)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

Having looked at scores around the state, Central Hardin knew if it didn’t come ready to play in the postseason, it could very easily make an early exit just like annual state tournament title contender Owensboro Catholic and perennial State qualifier Magoffin County.

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The Lady Bruins weren’t in much danger of joining other top teams on the bench though, not with the way juniors Shelby Maggard and Kelsey McGuffin were swinging the bats Tuesday evening.

McGuffin crushed a home run off the top of the scoreboard in deep center, while Maggard went 3-for-3 — driving in six runs in the first inning alone — as top-seeded Central Hardin overwhelmed the fifth-seeded Fort Knox Lady Eagles, 15-0 in three innings in the 17th District Tournament’s early semifinal on post.

As strong as Maggard and McGuffin were at the plate, senior April Pence was just as solid inside the circle. She struck out three of the 10 batters she faced and didn’t allow a walk or a hit. Fort Knox senior third baseman Christina Rice, who was joined on the All-Tournament Team by freshman pitcher Taylor Stephenson, reached on an error with two outs in the second to break up Pence’s perfect game bid.

“You can’t overlook anybody, no matter who it is,” said Pence, who walked three times at the plate. “If you overlook somebody, you can definitely be beat.”

The Lady Bruins (31-4-1) didn’t bat in the bottom of the third, but thanks in part to Maggard and McGuffin, they had already done plenty of damage at the plate.

Having been walked in her first two trips to the plate, McGuffin homered in the second by plunking the ball off the top-left corner scoreboard, more than 220 feet away.

“That was one of those you don’t even feel,” McGuffin said. “You just put a good swing on it.”

McGuffin’s swat ended Maggard’s chance at a rare feat: a 10-RBI cycle.

Maggard wasn’t very bitter, though. Instead, she was happy for her teammate.

“I’m glad she homered and I’m really happy she finally got a good pitch to hit,” Maggard said. “If your team still gets the runs, it doesn’t matter how they come.”

It mattered when McGuffin, a Western Kentucky commitment, kept getting walked. With Maggard batting right behind McGuffin in the four hole, Fort Knox paid for putting runners on.

“Shelby, my friend, was on fire tonight,” McGuffin said of Maggard, who had a three-run double and a three-run triple in the first and singled in the second. “Walking’s a good problem for me to have because if people walk me or April, depending on who is batting where in the lineup, we can pass it down the line.”

Central Hardin’s offensive output just added to the Lady Bruins’ mastery of district teams this season. In nine games against district foes entering tonight’s title game against Elizabethtown, the Lady Bruins have outscored district foes, 137-1.

“They didn’t give us much breathing room and they kind of lit it up,” said Fort Knox coach Rick Thompson. “We really didn’t make errors, but they can just hit the crap out of the ball. They’re just head and shoulders above the rest of the district.”

The ending was still head and shoulders above usual seasons for the Lady Eagles, who won a postseason game for the the first time in at least 15 years when they beat John Hardin in Monday’s quarterfinal.

Adding to their achievement, the Lady Eagles had just one player, Stephenson, who started at the same position last year.

“Take all of that into consideration, yeah I’m impressed with what we did,” Thompson said.

Regardless of what happens tonight, Central Hardin is already assured of a seventh straight 5th Region Tournament berth. The region quarterfinals start Monday at Hart County.

“I told the girls, ‘Good news, ladies: You get to put up with me for another week,’” said Central Hardin coach Jamie Goodman.

“I’m not so sure that’s a good thing,” deadpanned McGuffin, who was standing nearby. “But it’s always a blessing to get to play one more week with these girls. This is just one step closer in getting us to the bigger goal.”

CENTRAL HARDIN 15, FORT KNOX 0

R H E

Fort Knox 0 0 0 0 0 1

Central Hardin 12 3 x 15 8 1

Taylor Stephenson and Olivia Nieto. April Pence and Amanda Shackelford. WP: Pence. LP: Stephenson. 2B: Shelby Maggard (CH). 3B: Maggard (CH). HR: Kelsey McGuffin (CH).

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