Lafayette bowed out earlier than desired at the KHSAA State Softball Tournament, but with its two-game experience came a realization: this is the standard.
The Generals fell 7-4 to Butler in the quarterfinals Friday night at John Cropp Stadium. It was a matchup of the two highest-ranked teams still playing for a state title; Lafayette came in at No. 5 in the KHSAA’s RPI, while the Bearettes just topped ‘em at No. 4. They held similar positions in the most recent coaches poll.
They were close in ranking and record, but the programs’ overall résumés were more stark. Butler (32-4) has been to state nine times, has played in the final game (2002) and reached the semifinals in its most recent appearance (2018) before this season. Lafayette (31-9) was making just its fifth appearance and has an overall losing record at state; it fell to 7-9 after Friday’s result.
A team from Lexington hadn’t reached the state tournament since Lafayette last did so in 2011. Only one 11th Region team, Scott County, has ever won a softball championship. With most of its roster returning in 2022 — the Generals lose starting infielders Rylie Grantz and Natalie Henry along with reserve Kennedy Messer to graduation — Lafayette should come into next season with some swagger, and will field higher expectations from spectators outside the program.
They’ve increased within, too.
“We’re gonna be back,” Lafayette Coach Dan Grantz said. “That’s our expectation now. Lexington hasn’t been to state in a while, and the question is, ‘Why not?’ When it moved from Owensboro to here, I said, ‘Look, guys, it’s in our backyard.’”
In Lafayette’s case, that’s almost literal. John Cropp Stadium is 2.4 miles from the Generals’ campus.
“It felt like a home game for us,” Grantz said. “To be able to get on the big stage and perform well, win a game, and have a chance to come back in this one? A few plays here or there and you never know how this outcome would have shook out.”
Butler set the tone with a lead-off triple by Addiysn McNeil, who later scored on a Kyndall Tinnell single. Lafayette was unable to come up with an answer until the bottom of the third, by then trailing 3-0. Two singles sandwiched a walk to load the bases for the Generals, who got their first run in on a Natalie Henry single that dropped into centerfield.
Henry’s RBI prompted a shakeup in the circle for Butler. Maria Peguero relieved Sadie Werner and proceeded to give up a first-pitch single to Leah Holland, getting the Generals within 3-2. Peguero settled in from there, striking out the next two batters before a grounder left the bases loaded.
The Bearettes plated three more runs in the top of the fifth, but Lafayette got two back via consecutive solo shots by Natalie Henry and Leah Holland to lead off their part of the frame. Butler pushed across its last run in the sixth, and retired six of the next seven Generals to extend its season.
“Our hitting came into play and our pitching came into play,” Butler head coach Brittany Braun said. “They stayed up the whole game.”
Lafayette got 4 1/3 innings from Trinity Bridges, the 11th Region tournament MVP, before Holland took over for her in the circle. Both are sophomores, as is southpaw Claire Cronan, who played at first base Friday night. Kaileigh Brooks was the only junior in Lafayette’s lineup against Butler.
“We’ve got so many young players. Our sophomore class is just loaded with talent, and now they’ve got experience,” Grantz said. “You can’t replace experience, getting to state and getting to see this. I feel like they’re going to work hard to get back here and the younger kids are going to see that and work well, too.”
Green County 7, Warren East 5 (8)
Making just its fourth state tournament appearance, Green County eliminated Warren East — the runner-up in each of the last two state championship games — thanks to a three-run shot by Tatum Caulk in the top of the eighth inning.
Caulk, who’d hit just one home run all season, stepped to the plate with runners at first and second after a sac fly by Tanlee Hudgins scored Madi Corbin put the Dragons ahead 4-3. Her long ball to left-center proved crucial; the Raiders were able to get two runs back in the bottom of the eighth and had the bases loaded before Corbin snagged an infield shot at third to send Warren East home.
“She hit a dong,” Corbin said of Caulk’s game-deciding blast.
Green County’s in the state semifinal for the first time in program history. The Dragons (32-11) next faced Butler at 2 p.m. Saturday. They were staying overnight in Lexington instead of traveling back to Greensburg, so the turnaround wasn’t as harsh as it could have been.
“I am so proud of this team and how far we’ve came,” Corbin said. “We never gave up. Any obstacle that was thrown at us, we’ve always fought.”