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WARSAW, Ky. – The only question was whether or not Kaci Currens' line shot would be high enough.
The Anderson County High School sophomore had punished an offering from Oldham County's Kristen Smith. At the Lady Bearcats' home field, it would have been a no-doubter, but at Gallatin County High School, with roughly the same dimensions but a 10-foot-high fence, it was not clear.
Currens' laser rose ever so slightly. When the umpires signaled a home run, the Lady Bearcat bench erupted, then poured out of the dugout to meet Currens at the plate.
The scoreboard read Anderson County 4, Oldham County 3. The Lady Bearcats held on for their first Eighth Region championship since 2008 and third in the program's history.
“I knew as soon as it hit the bat, it was gone,” said Anderson senior Madison Brummett.
It was a sentiment shared by most of Currens' teammates, but Lady Bearcat coach Brent Aldridge was not quite as sure.
“I could not tell right away it was a home run,” Aldridge said. “I knew Kaci hit it hard, but it was on a line so I was worried about it hitting the top of the fence.”
Currens' blast came in the top half of the 12-inning and capped a marathon that lasted nearly 3.5 hours. It gave Anderson the final moment of joy in a night of superb softball between the region's heavyweights. It was a night when Anderson's quick 2-0 lead went by the books just as swiftly.
It was a night of multiple heroes and gallant performances. It was fluttering hearts, held breaths and hands folded in prayers.
One swing took care of things, but the drama was real from the time Smith walked Molly Burkhead to start the game until Currens, the tournament's Most Valuable Player, retired Oldham's Kailey Rigdon to end the game.
The tying run was at third base.
Anderson had taken a 2-0 lead by the middle of the third inning. After Burkhead walked to start the game, she eventually scored on Currens' double to almost the same spot of her region-winning homer more than three hours later. Currens drive was so wicked that it caromed off the fence so quickly that Oldham was able to keep courtesy runner Trista Craigmyle from scoring.
Burkhead scored again in the third after she singled and eventually scored on Currens' sacrifice fly. For the game, Currens went 2-for-4 with three RBI.
“I thought we were in good shape,” Burkhead said of the early lead, “but I also knew they were good and were able to come back at any time.”
Oldham showed the heart of a champion. Going for their third consecutive regional crown, the Lady Colonels reached Anderson starter Mia Aldridge for a pair of unearned runs in the third.
Aldridge, who had given up just one hit in six innings against Walton-Verona the night before, suddenly began to struggle. She walked two and gave up a pair of hits before Allyson Moore came on with two out in the third.
“There was probably more to that story than you could probably see,” Brent Aldridge said. “Bailey (Curry, the Anderson catcher) was also upset which I believe caused Mia to become emotional. A lot of those pitches Bailey said were strikes, but the umpire wasn't giving them. I know Mia, she had the mentality, 'I am going to win this myself.' That can be good or bad.
“Mia can only control what she can control and when an umpire changes, we need to simply adjust.”
Oldham's Madison Reed reached on an infield single, then leadoff hitter Peyton Hamm reached on an error. Reed scored on Rigdon's fielder's choice and Hamm scored on Smith's single, but Anderson right fielder Missa Walker prevented a third run with a perfect throw to catcher Curry, who caught Rigdon in a rundown to end the inning.
Moore, a sophomore coming off a knee injury, was simply fabulous. She stymied the Colonels with an array of curve balls and drop balls
“I was nervous as soon as he put me in,” she admitted, “but I knew my team had my back.”
Entering the game with two out in the third, Moore worked 9.1 innings, scattering six hits and striking out seven. Never were those K's bigger than getting cleanup hitter Delaney Sowell to end the eighth with the winning run just 60 feet from home plate.
Sowell would later tie the game in the bottom of the 11th with a long home run over the right field fence.
“Ally pitched a heck of a game,” Aldridge said. “She is not completely healed (from a knee injury) and will not be until mid-June. I am very proud of her. She has had to deal with injuries the last two seasons, so to respond like she did shows her mental toughness.”
Anderson had some chances to score, but Aldridge was kicking himself for not leaving Mia Aldridge in the lineup. She did return to hit for Moore in the fifth, but was out of the game after that. “That was bad coaching on my part, killing our No. 5 hitter, Mia,” he said. “We had several runners in scoring position when she would have been batting, especially later in the game.”
It stayed 2-2 until the 11th inning, but both teams had chances. Anderson had runners in scoring position three times before finally breaking through in the 11th. Oldham left the game-winning run on in scoring position in the eighth, ninth and 11th innings and had the tying run 60 feet from home plate when Currens recorded the final out.
And the celebration started again.
“Oh my gosh, I knew it was out,” Burkhead said of Currens' game-winner. “I came out and did a little dance. I am sure I embarrassed myself.”
No worries. A trip to the state tournament really is that big.