High School Sports

Tates Creek, Paul Dunbar advance in 43rd District softball

Dunbar's Mary Martin, left, slaps hands with Kaylie Zander after Zander scored on a walk in the first inning against Lafayette during the district tournament at LCA in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, May 22, 2012.
Dunbar's Mary Martin, left, slaps hands with Kaylie Zander after Zander scored on a walk in the first inning against Lafayette during the district tournament at LCA in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Lexington Herald-Leader

All Kenzi Groft was sure of was that she was not going to strike out again.

The Tates Creek sophomore had whiffed in each of her previous two at-bats.

So Groft walked to the plate in the scoreless sixth inning of the 43rd District semifinals at Lexington Christian with just one thing in mind.

"Just don't strike out," she said she told herself as she prepared to face Lexington Catholic reliever Ashley Baker with the go-ahead runner at second base.

When Groft made contact and watched the ball sail toward center field, all she knew was that she hadn't struck out. But she didn't realize that she'd managed to hit it over the fence and help the Commodores top the Knights 2-0 and advance to their first district title game since 2005.

"I stopped on second because I didn't know it went over the fence," Groft said of her second homer of the season.

Senior pitcher Finley Yuttayong said she knew it was out and she felt a surge of relief. She pitched an impressive game for the Commodores, allowing just two Catholic hits in six scoreless innings.

Yuttayong has been with Creek for six seasons and has never had the experience of going to the 11th Region Tournament, where the Commodores are headed with the win.

"This is a big deal," she said. "It's a huge big deal after the last few seasons."

The Commodores will face Paul Laurence Dunbar in the district title game on Wednesday night. The two teams split their regular-season games, with both games being decided by one run.

Paul Laurence Dunbar 8, Lafayette 3: A few weeks into the season when the Generals were riding high, ranked as high as third in the state and Dunbar was struggling to get a win, it would have been difficult to imagine this kind of outcome.

But fate has not been kind to Lafayette and time has been quite generous to Dunbar.

Lafayette started its season 24-1 and no losses to Kentucky foes, but the Generals, three-time defending district champs, have struggled since losing senior starting pitcher Emily Kincaid.

Jamie Vescio, who had almost no varsity experience coming into the season, was forced to come in as a starter.

Dunbar took advantage of her inexperience (and some Lafayette mental errors) to jump ahead early 8-0 after three innings. The Bulldogs let Lafayette make a late move, but held off the Generals at the end.

The Bulldogs, who don't have a single senior on the roster, have matured as the season has gone on, and it showed in the semifinals in the form of error-free ball and some acrobatic defensive plays.

"We started so slow, but we've been a work in progress," said Coach Mike Wainscott, who will retire at the end of the season. "But we get a little better every week."

Offensively, the Bulldogs got at least one hit from every player in the order. Riley Brown went 3-for-4 with a run scored and another pushed in.

Mary Martin's two-run double in the third inning gave the Bulldogs their 8-0 start.

Lafayette, which got two hits each from Vescio, Katelyn Mitchell and Kayla Franklin, scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh and had the bases loaded, but couldn't complete the comeback.

Wainscott credited his coaching staff, which includes former national collegiate player of the year Jenny Dalton Hill, with Dunbar's surge at the right time.

"I have a collegiate level coaching staff that is making an enormous difference, and our kids are buying in now," he said. "They're making a huge difference for us."

Lexington Catholic 000 000 0—0 2 1

Tates Creek 000 002 x—2 4 4

Ellen Mitchell, Ashley Baker (6), Mitchell (6) and Devin Walden. Finley Yuttayong and Carleigh Adams. 2B—Bailey Skaggs (TC). HR—Kenzi Groft (TC).

Records—Tates Creek 17-16, Lexington Catholic 15-14.

Paul Dunbar 323 000 0—8 11 0

Lafayette 000 001 2—3 8 4

Kaylie Zander and Rachel Ferguson. Jamie Vescio and Katelyn Mitchell. 2B—Stephanie Harvey, Emily Bryan, Mary Martin.

Records—Paul Dunbar 19-16-1, Lafayette 27-8.