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With the way her team was swinging the bats, freshman Nicole Blackstone was able to relax and take care of business inside the circle for the Elizabethtown Lady Panthers.
The host Lady Panthers had 11 hits in the final three innings and Blackstone threw her first career no-hitter Tuesday as Elizabethtown knocked off its 17th District rival, 15-0 in four innings.
Blackstone struck out five and was a second-inning walk away from a perfect game.
“It kind of makes me feel like I’ve taken a big step, that I can finally say I’ve played high school ball now,” she said.
While Blackstone kept the Lady Bulldogs off-balance, the Lady Panthers quickly adjusted to John Hardin freshman Ally Furnish.
Elizabethtown (7-7, 3-1 district) drew three walks in the first, but didn’t score as Furnish induced a groundout to end the threat. But the Lady Panthers’ bats woke up in the second.
Seventh-grader Rylee Brown led off with a bloop double that landed behind first base and seventh-grader Maddie Pinkham reached on an error. After an out, sophomore Carly Patterson tripled for a 2-0 lead.
Freshman Taylor Thomas singled to plate Patterson and, two batters later, senior Brianna Taylor singled to drive in freshman Callie Sondergard.
“Like Coach (Matt Mardis) said in practice yesterday, whenever you’re facing a slower pitcher for the first time you just see the pitches and get used to the speed,” Taylor said. “But the second time, you just adjust. We adjusted very well to her pitching.”
Elizabethtown, which won for the fifth time in six games, blew the game open in the third.
Thomas was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, while Sondergard and Taylor each had two-run singles to make it 9-0.
“We were just being patient,” Mardis said. “We kind of had an idea that they would work us outside, so we worked on hitting it to the other side of the field. We worked the outer half with everyone, and I think that made a big difference for them the second time through.
“After everyone settled down and was a little more patient, they started swinging the bats well.”
The Lady Panthers scored six in the fourth to end it.
Sondergard hit a two-run double, Patterson and freshman Sarah Beth Hundley had run-scoring singles and Taylor doubled to score Hundley to make it 15-0.
“It was much easier after we got adjusted,” said Taylor, who went 3-for-3. “She’s a good pitcher and she hits her spots well, but we just adjusted really well to her pitching. We need to see (the speed difference) first. You just have to know it’s coming in slower and look for your pitch.”
It made for a stress-free night for Blackstone. She breezed through the first inning on seven pitches, and after walking John Hardin junior Taylor Miller, retired eight straight.
Blackstone threw 32 of her 47 pitches for strikes.
“I was kind of scared they would get a hit, but I know my defense has my back,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about a ball getting past the infield because I know they’re going to play well behind me.”
Blackstone said watching her team grab the lead helped her relax.
“It makes all the difference in the world for a pitcher,” Mardis said. “But to be honest with you, Nicole just throws. She doesn’t have to worry about hitting, so she doesn’t have to worry about any frustrations at the plate. She can just go out there and pitch.
“She hit her spots well and she stayed in the zone,” he added. “She let her defense work behind and wasn’t trying to overpower anyone or be too fine.”
John Hardin (5-16, 0-4), meanwhile, lost its third straight.
The Lady Bulldogs have allowed 46 runs in that span, and have made 12 errors in the last two games.
“I’m at a loss right now. I really don’t know what to say,” John Hardin coach Deron Bell said. “We just have to go back to the drawing board, and we’re going to do that starting tomorrow. We’re going to have an intense practice and start over again. It’s the second half of the season. We’ve got to pick it up.”
ELIZABETHTOWN 15, JOHN HARDIN 0
R H E
John Hardin 000 0 0 0 4
Elizabethtown 045 6 1511 0
Ally Furnish and Melodi Haught. Nicole Blackstone and Brooke Chancey. WP: Blackstone. LP: Furnish. 2B: Rylee Brown (E), Callie Sondergard (E). 3B: Carly Patterson (E).
UP NEXT: Elizabethtown plays at No. 4 Central Hardin at 6 p.m. Thursday. John Hardin plays Harrison County at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Harrison County McDonald’s Classic.
Josh Claywell can be reached at 270-505-1752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.