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Thirty minutes after it was all over, faint smiles tried to break through the tears.
The hugs lasted longer than they normally do. Words were not necessary.
The tears, some still lingering despite the smiles, spoke all that needed to be said.
Anderson County's softball season had come to an end. Oldham County, the defending champion and Kentucky's seventh-ranked team, had killed the dream with a 4-2 win in the Eighth Region semifinal on the Lady Bearcats' home field
The Anderson dream had been big, much larger than most had thought was realistic when the season started in late March. The fact that Jessica Leanhart practically destroyed the dream by herself made the hurt deeper, the tears more profuse.
Leanhart pounded Anderson with her bat, getting two hits, including a third-inning home run, and two RBI. Her other hit showcased her speed as Leanhart singled to lead off the bottom of the first, then motored all the way to third on a sacrifice bunt. Leanhart came home on a ground out to give Oldham the early lead it would never relinquish.
Oldham was the home team by the luck of the draw. As it turned out, that strategic advantage did not matter.
That Anderson was unable to overcome even that slightest of all deficits could be traced back to Leanhart. Again and again, she showed why Anderson coach Brian Glass believes she is the best pitcher the Lady Bearcats faced in 2013.
Anderson stranded nine base runners, six in scoring position. Three of those stranded runners reached at least second base with nobody out.
“I just have to tip my hat to Leanhart,” Glass said. “She is the best player in the region, in my opinion. Good pitchers can get out of jams like that.”
Leanhart showed greatness after she walked Anna-Marie Hyatt to lead off the second inning, then surrendered infield hits to Corrin Robinson and Alissa Vest to fill the bases with no out.
Leanhart reared back to strike out the next three batters. A patented Anderson speed-driven uprising had been thwarted.
“She is a senior. I could tell she did not want this to be her last game,” Leanhart's father and Oldham County coach Steve Leanhart said. “She seemed to pick it up every time they had a runner at third base.”
Robinson walked and made it to third in the fourth inning, but Leanhart rang up another K to end that threat too. In all, Leanhart struck out 10 and victimized every spot in the Anderson batting order, other than Robinson's six-spot, at least once.
“She is very deserving of everything she has earned,” Glass said of Leanhart.
By the time Robinson created the threat in the fourth, Leanhart had put Oldham up 3-0 with a two-run homer to left in the bottom of the third.
Still, Anderson would not die.
The Lady Bearcats collected six hits and drew five walks from Leanhart. As they had all year, they tried to create pressure on the base paths.
“That is the one thing I told the girls before the game,” Glass said. “We had scouted Oldham County for pitching reasons, but we were going to play our game. We were not going to change our style of play because of who we are playing. We have played like this all year and we have played some of the best teams in the state.”
Anderson finally broke through in the fifth when Burkhead and Kaci Currens drew walks before Hyatt drove Burkhead in with a sharp single down the left field. Currens then came home when Oldham centerfielder Cynthia Leston could not come up with Robinson's sinking line drive.
It would be Anderson's final serious threat. Currens drew a two-out walk in the seventh but Leanhart fanned Hyatt to end the game, and season, for the Lady Bearcats.
Oldham had gotten some insurance when Sarah Lopesilvero hit one off the top of the centerfield fence. The ball bounced on over for what looked to be an insurance run.
The Lady Colonels needed it. Now 32-5, they moved on to play Gallatin County in the regional championship game Wednesday night.
“When you have Curry and Currens still coming up, you need that insurance,” Leanhart, the coach said. “You know what those kids are capable of.”
And the Lady Bearcats battled through all 21 outs.
Even though Leanhart, the pitcher, was outstanding, Anderson still had base runners in every inning but the sixth.
Anderson pitchers Mia Aldridge and Ally Moore got out of jams in the third and fourth innings as well. They only walked one batter.
“I told Ally and Mia I was very proud of them,” Glass said of his freshman pitchers. “They are a big reason the season (26-12) went so well.”
But in the cruel world of post-season tournaments, only one team in the state will end the year with a victory. The big dreams and short journey mean the tears hurt that much worse.
“In a close game like this one, it is going to come down to a hit here or there,” Glass said. “I just told the girls I appreciated the effort. They fought to the end.”
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