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PREP SOFTBALL: Central Hardin's McGuffin, Hiller showcase their power against LaRue County (05/29)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

BARDSTOWN – The Central Hardin Lady Bruins’ food of choice Tuesday night? The rare, yet tasty, quadruple pounder.

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Sophomore shortstop Kelsey McGuffin pounded out three homers and junior left fielder Amber Hiller pounded her first career over-the-fence home run as the ninth-ranked Lady Bruins pounded the LaRue County Lady Hawks, 11-0 in six innings in the 5th Region Softball Tournament’s late semifinals at Nelson County.

“A game is just another game and sometimes you’ve got it and sometimes you don’t,” McGuffin said. “Hitting comes and goes, so I feel blessed to have had some good swings tonight.”

McGuffin has had it a lot lately as her homers gave her six in five games. It was the second time this postseason she has ended a game with a homer. She hit a three-run shot in the sixth Tuesday to invoke the mercy rule, while she crushed a fourth-inning grand slam in the 17th District Tournament semifinals against John Hardin.

“If you find a good pitch, you’ve got to swing at it,” McGuffin said. “And right now I’m in a zone, but hitting can leave you day by day. So it’s a blessing.”

McGuffin didn’t need many good pitches to swing at. In fact, she hit the last three strikes she saw over the fence at Mike Lusk Field. She hit a two-run homer on a 1-1 pitch in the first inning and a two-run homer off the first pitch she saw in the third. Following a four-pitch intentional walk in the fifth – which LaRue County paid for as Hiller hit a three-run homer three batters later – McGuffin hit a 1-0 homer to left in the sixth.

The performance shot McGuffin up the ladder in many statistical record categories kept by the KHSAA. She matched a state record for single-game homers, tied for second in consecutive at-bats with a homer (three), moved to sixth for single-season homers (15), moved to sixth for career homers (29) and put her in a tie for 12th for single-game RBIs (seven).

“I pitched her outside the first time, I pitched her inside the second time, walked her the third time and I believe I pitched outside the fourth time,” said LaRue County coach Aaron Howell. “She’s just in the zone. She was a one-man wrecking crew tonight.”

Thanks to McGuffin and Hiller, Central Hardin moved into second place for single-season homers (39), 10 behind the total record-holder Christian County put up two years ago.

Earlier this season, Central Hardin became the fifth school to hit four homers in a game. And Tuesday, it became the first softball team in state history to have two games with more than three homers in the same season.

LaRue County junior third baseman Courtney Johnson, who was selected to the All-Tournament Team along with LaRue County junior first baseman/pitcher Brigitte Skaggs, said she had a hard time remembering an opponent having a performance like McGuffin’s.

“Oh my gosh,” Johnson said. “They just kept coming and coming.”

Hiller thought her homer would finally come this year, having plunked a pair of balls off the fence earlier this season. However, she didn’t run them out and had to settle for singles instead of a double or perhaps even a triple.

This time, when she hit the first she saw over the fence in the fifth to put the Lady Bruins up 8-0, Hiller moved so quickly around the bases, she barely gave her teammates enough time to leave the dugout and help her celebrate at home plate.

“Yeah, I know I could have slowed down,” said Hiller, who also had a big hit against North Hardin in the district final last week. “I hit two off the fence and when they dropped back in, I got in trouble for not running. So I made sure I ran hard this time.”

Central Hardin coach Jamie Goodman, manning third base, said he didn’t bother trying to tell Hiller to relax and savor the moment.

“They’ve been told to run them out until they’re for sure, so she was only doing what she was told,” Goodman said. “But that might have been the fastest home run in history.”

The shutout was the Lady Bruins’ fifth straight as Central Hardin became the 10th school to record five consecutive shutouts in a season.

The loss put a damper on what was a red-hot finish for the Lady Hawks, who finished 20-20 after starting 5-15.

“It was a hard year to get started, but in the end, it was great,” Johnson said. “It was good to see us come together as a team and hit our peak when we were supposed to.”

Howell, whose team was one win away from its second region final appearance in three years, said the team shouldn’t let its last game define its year.

“We won 15 of our last 20 games, we have a lot to hang our hat on and we won the 18th District for the first time since 2008, so we had a good season with a lot of improvement,” he said. “We’ll be more of a veteran team next year.”

Central Hardin (33-5-1) advances to play North Hardin (16-19) in the final at 6:30 tonight. Central Hardin is 3-0 against the Trojans this year, but the last meeting was a 4-0 affair.

“Tonight was one step toward our goals and tomorrow is another step,” Goodman said. “They’re a rival and they’re playing really well right now. So we’re going to have to play really well to beat them.”

CENTRAL HARDIN 11, LARUE COUNTY 0

                                              R  H  E

LaRue County    000   000          0  2  1

Central Hardin    202   133         11  9  1

Emillee Cundiff, Brigitte Skaggs (5) and Sierra Mullins. April Pence and Mariah Bryant. WP: Pence (13-2). LP: Cundiff (7-6). HR: Kelsey McGuffin (CH) 3, Amber Hiller (CH) 1. SB: Jordan Lasley (CH).

Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at (270) 505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.