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Cooper advances to the district championship, Conner wins thriller

The 33rd District softball tournament kicked off Sunday in Cooper, with the host Jaguars taking on Boone County, while Conner and Ryle faced off in the second semifinal.

While Cooper was heading into Monday’s championship game, the Cougars and Raiders needed extra innings to decide Monday’s other championship game.

Here’s how it went:

CONNER 2, RYLE 1 (8 INNINGS)

Mollie Sharp was not only dominant in the circle, but her two-out, two-strike home run in the bottom of the seventh inning helped keep the Cougars’ season alive.

Faced with an 0-2 count and an error on two pitches, Sharp gave the fifth pitch of the at-bat a lift to left-center field, going just over the fence to tie the game at 1-1.

“I waved at whatever was coming towards me and hoped I hit it,” Sharp said. ‘I thought so too. She threw it outside and I just picked it up. I started looking for that exact pitch and there you go.”

Sharp and Ryle’s Madison Goddard was in control in the circle throughout the match.

Sharp, fired up after the tying home run, came out in the top of the eighth inning and struck out the striker to give the Cougars a sudden chance at victory in the bottom half of the inning.

“When I pitch, I just hold on and keep my composure. I’m not going to let all the strikeouts get to me because I still have a whole game to pitch,” Sharp said. “I was excited, but I tried not to show it in the circle.”

Averie Lightner singled to right field to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning, advanced to second on a wild pitch, then Jalyn Cain drove her in with an RBI single to right center field to give the Cougars the improbable victory To deliver.

“I was struggling the whole game,” Cain said. “I definitely had some nerves and took a deep breath and all these girls here came up to me and made me think, ‘I have a whole team behind me.’ I play for the whole team and had to do this for them.”

They go from their latest strike to extending their season for at least another week, with an automatic berth to the 9th Region Championship.

They get Cooper in the 33rd District championship game on Monday at 5:30 p.m

Sharp’s performance is one that will long be remembered in Hebron. Not only did she provide the fireworks at the plate, she struckout 19 batters and allowed only one hit, a single in the fifth inning. She fought through four walks and four Conner errors to keep them within striking distance.

All four Conner errors came in the fourth inning when Ryle got their lone run on three bunts. First it was Kiley Patterson who reached base on an error on a bad throw to first base on a bunt. Then it was Korlin Rechtin who reached on an error on a bunt, while Patterson advanced to third base on another bad throw. Ultimately, it was Laci DeLauder who laid one down, reached on another error and Patterson scored.

It looked like that would be all it would take in this pitchers’ duel, as Goddard struck out eleven batters for the Raiders. Two of her biggest strikeouts came in the fifth and sixth inning when Conner had runners in scoring position, in the fifth with runners on second and third base with one out and got a strikeout followed by a groundout, then in the sixth strikeout with runners on second and third base to end the threat.

Ryle’s Madison Goddard struck out 11 batters in Sunday’s game with Conner. File photo | Charles Bolton

Goddard added two more strikeouts in the seventh, but Ryle couldn’t close out the game with a strike down the stretch. It ends their season at 13-14, a season that started promisingly as they were seeded preseason No. 2 in the 9th Region, behind only back-to-back champion Highlands. Not only will they not get a chance to live up to that billing, but they will also miss out on a chance to three-peat in the rugged 33rd District. It will be a tough pill to swallow given the way the loss played out and while they will return a ton of talent, Goddard and two other seniors in Zoe Coop and Mikayla Kouns will graduate.

Conner’s win in the semifinals is their first in the district tournament since 2019 as they look for their first district title since ’19.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year, since I’ve been here, is to make region. “I’ve been here five years and if anyone knows this district, this is always a tough game to come out of,” Cougars coach Shawn Sproles said. “I’m happy that the program has grown enough that we feel comfortable with these moments. The seniors are great at leading everything and when you hang out with certain teams there’s just energy and belief, and when you hang out with those teams they’re a lot of fun to coach.

Expect another tight battle on Monday, with the Cougars losing 4-3, 2-1 in eight innings to Cooper in the regular season. All three games with Ryle this season went to overtime, with the Cougars conceding two of those three meetings.

COUGARS 2, RAIDERS 1 (8 INNINGS)

RYLE — 000-100-00 — 1-1-0

CONNER — 000-000-11 — 2-7-4

2B – Sharp

HR – Sharp

W.P – Sharp. LP – Goddard.

Facts: Ryle 13-14, Conner 17-10

COOPER 10, BOONE COUNTY 1

Cooper coach Rusty Scott said there were 10 MVPs after Sunday’s semifinal win over Boone County.

The Jaguars got contributions all along the lineup and their solid defense made no mistake as Lily Spraker did her job throwing to contact as the defense made the plays presented to them.

Cooper’s Lily Spraker allowed just one goal in Sunday’s win over Boone County. File photo | Charles Bolton

“We played our game,” Scott said. “That’s been our mantra all year. Pitch to contact, let our defense do the work and be aggressive on the bases. Quite aggressive defensively and it felt like we played a complete game. As far as heroes go, I felt like we had about ten heroes today in every facet of the game.

Meanwhile, it was an error in the first inning by Boone County that opened up the chances for the Jaguars in this one. With two outs, a grounder was batted back to pitcher Dani Wright, a throwing error that led to two Cooper runners. Cooper added two more runs in the first inning to make it 4-0.

“Once that throw happened, it’s one you don’t see from Dani. She’s pretty automatic in those situations,” Rebels coach Christopher Kinman said. “That one play there gave them four runs too early and took a little bit of the wind out of our sails.”

Cooper put things on cruise control from then on, adding two runs in the second, one in the fourth and fifth and two more in the sixth.

Ava Scott had four hits in the game, going 4-for-4 in the leadoff spot and wreaking havoc on the basepaths with three stolen bases and four runs scored.

“It’s important to set the tone,” Scott said. “Our saying is: expect to do that. So I expect to steal and get a base hit.”

Kailey Milburn provided some of the pop at the plate with a two-run homer to center in the second and hit three RBIs, while Ainsley Scroggie had two extra base hits with a triple, double and two RBI.

Kailey Milburn hit her sixth home run of the season in the win over Boone County on Sunday. Photo provided | Cooper Jaguar Fastpitch

“I hit the first ball thrown to me that at-bat,” Milburn said. “I struck out the at-bat before, so I thought, ‘don’t strike out,’ and then the at-bat went over the fence. I knew when I hit him it was solid contact.

Spraker pitched five innings, allowing a single, earning a run and walking three, while Desiree Mack came on and threw two more scoreless innings.

Cooper is heading to their fourth straight district championship, hoping to seal the deal Monday after losing the previous three. As a No. 1 seed and on their home court, there’s no better time to do this.

“The ball needs to bounce our way a few times,” Rusty Scott said. “We have to make the plays, do what we do, pitch to contact, ground balls, missed barrels, if that happens we have a chance.”

Boone County’s season ends at 6-19, its first under Christopher Kinman.

“The numbers started off a little slow, we had a few seniors coming back who hadn’t played in a few years. We were recruited in the high schools and ended up with about 24 girls in the varsity and JV program and that will really set the tone for years to come,” Kinman said. “We see this as a major long-term commitment and this year was the first step.”

They will graduate six seniors.

JAGUARS 10, REBELS 1

BOONE COUNTY – 001-000-0 – 1-1-3

KUIPER — 420-112-x — 10-10-0

2B — Scroggie, Furnish

3B — Scroggie

HR – Milburn

W.P —Speaker. LP –Wright.

Recordings: Boone County 6-19, Kuiper 18-10