AUGUSTA — One year ago, Bracken County cruised to the 39th District Championship after defeating Mason County 17-0 in the first round of the district tournament. Wednesday night was a different story, as the Lady Bears had to battle their way to a 7-3 win over the Lady Royals.
“I wanted to compete,” said Mason County coach Rabbit Littleton. “Last year in the first round, we had to play them and they beat us 17 to nothing. So, that’s what I said to them before the game, just 17 to nothing.”
Bracken County coach Tony Green said, “We kept our composure and didn’t overlook anybody. Last year was last year, and that means nothing this year.”
Ella Johnson walked the lead-off batter Kenzie Gulley to start the game, but followed that with three strikeouts. Gulley walked twice and had one hit in the game, bringing her season hit total to 74, the most in the region.
Bracken had an opportunity to go up big early. After a single, walk, and hit by pitch, the Lady Bears had bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the first inning.
Mason County escaped the jam, surrendering only one run from Whitney Lippert’s one-out single that scored Kyndall Johnson.
That momentum carried over to the plate. Mason answered in the top of the 2nd, scoring a run and tying the game at 1. They scored from a lead-off walk followed by an error. Stevie Foley hit a fly ball to center, scoring Sydney Ullery.
Going into the bottom of the 3rd tied at 1, Bracken County was able to put a crooked number up on the board and take a 3-1 lead.
The rally started with back-to-back singles from Kamryn Gordley and Ella Johnson with no outs. After a groundout put both runners in scoring position, Jalyn Hamilton singled up the middle to score both Lady Bears and put them up by 2.
The Lady Royals were held scoreless in the top half of the 4th.
The Lady Bears came back to the plate and kept the bats going. After Ava Tarter was hit by a pitch, Kyndall Johnson hit a double to the gap in left-center to score Tarter.
Kendall, just a 7th grader, is batting .472 on the season and hit for the cycle in the first-round game earlier that evening.
Bracken County would score again on a dropped third strike to make it Bracken 5, Mason 1 heading into the 5th inning.
Rabbit Littleton’s team was not done fighting yet.
With two outs and a runner on, Kennadi Kirk hit a triple and later scored on an error, running all 240 feet back to home to cut the deficit to 5-3.
Between innings, the lights went out in right field, causing a delay. Both coaches agreed to keep playing.
That would be the last time Mason County scored. Bracken County would add 2 insurance runs in the bottom of the 6th inning and hold Mason in the 7th to win their second straight 39th District Championship.
Ella Johnson finished with 16 strikeouts across 7 innings, giving up 3 hits and 3 walks.
“It’s always a team effort, but you can’t discount the fact Ella threw pretty well. She’s a horse out there,” said Tony Green.
“We competed,” said Littleton. “We had two errors that cost us. But, even right up to the last out in the 7th inning, I felt there was still a chance we could come back and win this game.”
Mason County had a record of 15-16 last year and has improved to now 20-18.
“We took the program over last year, and we have done nothing but get better. We’re still taking baby steps, but those steps are forward. Each and every player has gotten better this year, and that’s all we can ask,” said Littleton.
Tony Green said, “That program has turned the corner. They are playing really, really good ball right now. We knew coming into this it was going to be a dogfight.”
Both teams will play in the 10th Region tournament next week at Bourbon County. Bracken will play either Scott, Nicholas, or Clark. Mason will have either Campbell, Harrison, or Montgomery. The draw is Saturday morning.
“We’re prepared for whoever we get because these girls aren’t afraid to play anybody,” said Green.