By John Lachmann
ERLANGER, Ky. – It took 41½ hours to complete the Region 9 championship game between Ryle and Conner, and at no time during that period did the Raiders lead.
But a walk-off two-out single by sophomore left fielder Katelyn Stephens plated the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning to lift Ryle to a 2-1 win at St. Henry on Saturday.
“I was just thinking, I have to put the bat on the ball, and so I just swung,” Stephens said. “As soon as I saw it passed the shortstop, I just cried. I just lost it.”
The run-scoring hit capped a Raiders rally that saw the final four batters reach base after their season was reduced to one out.
“It would’ve been nice to finish the other night, but I guess everything happens for a reason,” Ryle sophomore right-hander Ali Crupper said. “It was a good reason this time.”
The game was suspended in the bottom of the sixth on Thursday after strong storms rolled into the area. Conner led, 1-0, Ryle sophomore first baseman Kelsey Hammes had a 2-2 count and the Raiders had a runner on second with two outs.
When the game resumed on Saturday, Cougars freshman right-hander Elizabeth Sims walked Hammes, who had two of Ryle’s four hits. Sims then retired Crupper on a grounder to third.
Crupper walked Sims to start the top of the seventh, but her courtesy runner was stranded at second after she was bunted over.
Ryle eighth-grade catcher McKenzi Dickerson popped up to Sims to open the bottom of the seventh. But Sims threw wildly after fielding the ball cleanly when the next batter, senior right fielder Sydney Langsdale, bounced back to the circle, giving the Raiders their first baserunner of the inning.
Ryle was down to its last out after sophomore designated player Hannah Brumback popped to third, but Conner was unable to close out the inning.
Raiders leadoff hitter senior center fielder Kate Rouse hit a blooper down the left field line that dropped for a base hit, and junior second baseman McKell Oliverio fisted a ball toward second base and was able to beat it out for an infield single, loading the bases.
That brought up freshman shortstop and No. 3 hitter Haylee Smith, who had already reached twice in three plate appearances. Smith hit a hard grounder to shortstop, and Cougars senior Ellery Kring bobbled and was unable to record an out as the tying run scored.
Stephens stepped to the plate. She struck out on a high pitch in the first inning, so Sims tried to finish her the same way when the count went 0-2, but this time Stephens took it high.
With the count 1-2, she smashed a ball through the left side to score the winning run.
“That was exciting – it was nice to see the girls have confidence,” Ryle coach Patti Oliverio said. “Kate Rouse came up with two outs, got the hit, then McKell came up, got the hit, Haylee put the ball hard in play and Katelyn, she’s done that three of four times this year, drive in the winning run with two outs and us down, so it was a familiar situation for us, so we had a lot of confidence in her right there.”
The game was called Thursday night after a lightning strike and subsequent heavy rain.
Two days earlier, sophomore left fielder Sydney Himes scored the lone Conner run in the top of the third. She singled, advanced to second on a sacrifice and scored on a two-base throwing error.
In the top of the sixth, Conner had runners at second and third with one out, but after a Crupper fielded a bunt and threw to Oliverio, who was covering first, Oliverio threw out the lead runner trying to score.
Oliverio reached on an error to start the bottom of the sixth, and she moved to second on a groundout. One out later, Hammes’ at-bat, and the paramount fast-pitch game played in Northern Kentucky this season, were interrupted by the lightning four pitches in.
It was the eighth regional title for Ryle in the past nine years, and the Raiders’ third straight. Conner is the only other team to win a Region 9 championship in that span, as the Cougars went to state in 2009.
Crupper finished with six hits allowed and she walked just two while striking out five, including two the final inning.
“I’m very proud of her – she kept us in (the game) here,” Stephens said. “If she’d given up any more hits it would’ve been a different story.”
Ryle will play Christian County in the first round of the state tournament at 5 p.m. on Thursday at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro.
CONNER 001-000-0—1 6 4
vs. RYLE 000-000-2—2 7 1
WP: Crupper (17-6). LP: Sims (26-12). HITTING LEADERS: C—Himes 2-4; Sims 2B. R—Hammes 2-2. RECORDS: Ryle 21-13, Conner 28-12.
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