A wild play that had two runners at third base in the third inning still worked out, putting Clay County’s first run across and spurring the Tigers on to the KHSAA State Softball Tournament semifinals in a 4-2 win over Madisonville on Friday at the University of Kentucky’s John Cropp Stadium.
Jamie Gilbert, Clay County’s colorful coach who has his team in the final four for the first time, danced to the postgame music and the cheers of their fans after the victory.
“It feels great. First time ever. That’s a new feeling for me,” said Gilbert, who has led the Tigers to their only two state appearances in consecutive years. “It’s a great one.”
With runners on first and second and one out in the top of the third, Maddie Frazier hit a looping single to right field. While runner Ellie Finley held up at third, Shelby Phillips behind her kept running as the ball came home and was standing almost next to Finley.
Madisonville catcher Mykayla Spurlin threw to short to try to catch Phillips in a rundown, but that brought Finley sprinting home. Madisonville shortstop Jayda Perkins’ throw to the catcher slipped away on a play ruled an error and Clay County had a 1-0 lead.
Gilbert likened the play to an “old man walking on a broke cane, but it worked out.”
Clay County tacked on two more runs on a Brianda Owens grounder and a double by Frazier to finish the third up 3-0.
Madisonville answered with two runs in the fourth. After a single by Perkins, Madisonville’s Amber Osborne and Bailey Woodward hit back-to-back run-scoring doubles to cut the lead to 3-2. The runs were only the 13th and 14th earned runs given up all year by Owens, Clay County’s ace.
“I just counted on my defense, really,” said Owens, who came in with a 0.51 ERA and improved her record to 27-2. “I wasn’t trying to go up there and strike anybody out, I was just trying to pitch my pitch to get outs — one out at a time.”
Owens gave herself some cushion in the fifth inning, hitting a double that scored Frazier to make the score 4-2 and set the final margin.
Frazier had reached on an error. All four of Clay County’s runs were unearned.
Madisonville (24-10) threatened in the seventh, putting runners on first and second with two out on consecutive singles by Zoe Davis and Courtney Patterson. But Owens induced a line-out to the center fielder to end the game.
Clay County (36-2) will face the winner of Friday’s late game between No. 1 Male and No. 5 Boyle County. That game is scheduled for noon Saturday.