LEXINGTON – Another year, another special season for the Warren East softball program.
One year after recording a runner-up finish on Kentucky’s biggest stage, the Lady Raiders again have nothing to hang their heads about as they capped their 2019 campaign as the runner-up in the KHSAA Fast Pitch Softball State Tournament on Saturday evening at the University of Kentucky’s John Cropp Stadium.
Despite falling 6-1 to Male – Kentucky’s top-ranked team and the No. 3 ranked squad in the entire country according to USAToday – and failing to capture a first-ever state title, Warren East’s season was yet another it won’t soon forget about.
“The bad part is there’s nothing I can say to take any pain away from ‘em. I can’t,” Warren East coach Philip McKinney said. “I told ‘em this, I said, ‘I guarantee you this – it might be 10 or 15 years from now, but last year’s team and this year’s team will go into the Warren East Hall of Fame. I guarantee it. I don’t have a vote, but I guarantee it’s gonna happen.”
Warren East – which finishes 35-3 overall – led 1-0 after four-and-a-half innings before Male scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth to jump in front. The Lady Bulldogs (39-0) – who finish as just the second team to ever go undefeated throughout a Kentucky high school softball season – went on to score four runs in the sixth and put the Lady Raiders away.
“We had to stay high energy and keep everybody up no matter what was happening,” junior third baseman Shelby Trent said. “I was really proud of everybody because nobody really quit, even after they scored their last ones. We stayed up – and we didn’t give up.”
East senior pitcher and 2019 Kentucky Miss Softball Katie Gardner, sophomore centerfielder Lucy Patterson and Trent were each named to the All-Tournament Team.
Gardner caps an incredible high school career that included many accolades and achievements. While it is tough on the Tennessee-Martin signee now, she can always look back on what she and the Lady Raiders were able to accomplish throughout the years.
“It’s gonna be hard to not think about it,” Gardner said. “These girls are like my sisters. Our bond is very special. To be able to get back to the state championship game two years in a row is all I could ever ask for.”
After four scoreless innings, Warren East broke through first in the top of the fifth.
With O’Brien Wilson on serving as the courtesy runner for Gardner, who delivered a double into center field, Emmah Young soon stepped to the plate, hit a single, and in the process a fielding error by Male allowed Wilson to score and gave the Lady Raiders a 1-0 lead.
Male immediately responded – and in a big way.
Jasmine Miller led off the bottom half of the inning with a double into left, and Jaelyn Sanders followed up with a double of her own to plate Miller and even the scoreboard. A Megan Lenhart sacrifice bunt shortly after – and due to Warren East not covering home plate – allowed Sanders to cross and put the Lady Bulldogs up 2-1.
The Lady Raiders assembled a strong start to the sixth as Hailey Hymer and Kelsey Sparks each singled and Patterson reached on a walk, but Male pitcher Kelsie Houchens and the Lady Bulldogs’ defense recorded three straight outs – two coming via strikeouts – to end East’s threat.
Leading by a single run with two outs in the bottom frame, Male suddenly scored four runs off one at-bat to build a four-run advantage. With Sanders at the plate, she sent a double into left to score three runs before she soon reached home courtesy of an error to put the Lady Bulldogs up 6-1 and seal it.
“Hats off to them – (Male coach Josh) Bloomer’s got an excellent program,” McKinney said. “He’s a really good coach. He’s got some good players and he does a good job with them.
“But we battled.”
Warren East – 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 – 1 5 1
Male – 0 0 0 0 2 4 X – 6 3 1
WP: Houchens. LP: Gardner.