It had taken years of program building and half a season for Lafayette softball to ascend to the No. 1 ranking in the state. It took less than four days for 43rd District-rival Lexington Catholic to spoil it.
On Monday, just as the new Kentucky Softball Coaches Association rankings came out with the Generals at No. 1, home-standing No. 22 Lexington Catholic defeated them 1-0. On Thursday, the Knights’ 3-0 victory on Lafayette’s home field made the argument that there’s clearly more than one region and state title contender in Lexington.
“This was huge. We’ve been preparing for this all season, just talking about this game and how district was going to come down to these two games this week,” said Sara Prisinzano, a junior second baseman who smashed an 0-2 pitch over the left-center field fence with a runner on base to give Lexington Catholic a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning. It was her first home run of the year. “To pull it through and to win, it feels so good.”
With the win, Lexington Catholic (17-2) has swept all eight of its district games, locking up the No. 1 seed and a bye to the semifinals of the district tournament.
“This program is something else. We’ve got a really good team with a bunch of good girls — just everything we’ve been doing this year is great,” said senior catcher Ella Emmert, one of two daughters on the team for LexCath Coach Emery Emmert. Ella announced her commitment to continue her playing career at the University of Kentucky on Wednesday. “I’m so happy to be on this team and super excited for what we’re going to do the rest of this season and postseason.”
Lessons learned for Lafayette
The Generals (22-3) ascended to the No. 1 ranking after a pair of impressive wins over No. 14 Male and No. 19 Estill County last weekend, combined with prior-No. 1 South Warren suffering its first loss of the season. Lafayette’s only loss until this week came to Anderson County, which has been in and out of the rankings.
Lafayette also has victories over No. 9 Henderson County, No. 10 Assumption and No. 18 Marshall County.
Lafayette hasn’t won a region title since 2011. And, until this week, Coach Dan Grantz said the team had always felt like the hunter, rather than the hunted. Dropping two games to Lexington Catholic has provided a wake-up call.
“We definitely learned to push through and not take any game for granted,” said Lafayette senior third baseman Rylie Grantz, another coach’s daughter, who is a West Alabama commit.
“We’re just going to come together at practice tomorrow. … We’ve never been in this position before, so nobody really knows how to handle it,” Rylie Grantz said. “We’re still very grateful. I know I am, for sure. We’re just trying to handle the stress and having to play with a target on your back every game. But we’re doing OK.”
Better to be No. 1 and knocked off in mid-May than to take these lumps in the postseason. Playing under that kind of pressure can only help the team moving forward, Coach Grantz said.
“I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “In our own district to see pitching and catching like (LexCath’s) will only help us for the postseason. … Not only was it a great test for us, but it’s still an opportunity for us to keep getting better.”
Lafayette won’t be taking many days off. They’re scheduled to play No. 3 Ballard, No. 4 Butler, No. 6 Boyle County, No. 11 Great Crossing and No. 17 Woodford County by the end of the regular season.
“The girls have got to learn how to handle adversity now, because they are used to winning, and make adjustments,” Granz said.
Grantz added that he doesn’t mind offloading those No. 1 expectations and told LexCath’s Coach Emmert after the game that the Knights have his No. 1 vote.
“The target’s definitely on their back now,” Grantz said. “They’re in the driver’s seat and it’s up to them to maintain it. They played well and they’ve got a great pitcher and catcher combination.”
Clutch LexCath performances
Eighth-grader Abby Hammond pitched both of LexCath’s shutout wins over Lafayette, hurling complete games in each, allowing two hits and eight strikeouts on Monday and six hits with seven strikeouts on Thursday.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without a great offense and my defense backed me up,” said Hammond, who also tripled and scored on a passed ball in the fifth for the game’s final run. Her record improved to 15-2 with a 0.98 ERA. “They were better than ever tonight.”
Chemistry is the key to LexCath’s success, Coach Emmert said.
“Every day is kind of a high point for us,” Emmert said. “Everybody really likes each other in good and bad (times). Even in the losses we’ve had, somebody has come out and done something special. We just come out and do our thing. I think, the girls, you can tell they’re not pressured.”
The lost season due to the pandemic let Lexington Catholic slip under the radar some this season. People didn’t get to see Hammond as a seventh-grader and didn’t realize the depth, maturity and quality of the Knights until this year got underway.
There will be no hiding now.
“I knew that we were going to be good,” Emmert said. “I didn’t know we were going to sweep the districts. … I’ve always said we need to learn to compete and then learn to win. Early on, we competed. …
“Now, we’re to the point where we’re learning to win.”