By RYAN HERMAN
West Lincoln’s softball team had never played in a conference tournament championship, much less won one.
That all changed on Thursday.
Karsen Leonhardt and Raeven McCrodden each went 3-for-3 and drove in two runs, Cassidy Wise ground her way through 250 total pitches across two games Thursday to hold Bandys to three hits, and the Rebels downed the Trojans 6-0 to win the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference tournament title at Betty G. Ross Park.
The league tournament title was the first in the sport for the school, coach Tyler Sain said, and came after the Rebels won their first tournament semifinal game by downing East Lincoln 6-3.
Bandys defeated Bunker Hill in the other semifinal to advance to the championship.
“Man, I am so proud of these girls for what they have accomplished this season,” said a soaking-wet Sain, who had been coaxed into a Gatorade bath his players. “We won a regular season title and now we’re tournament champs. What more can you ask for before the playoffs?”
Top-seeded West Lincoln (20-3) led the No. 2 Trojans 2-0 entering bottom of the sixth thanks to Kylee Leonhardt’s RBI groundout in the third and Karsen Leonhardt’s run-scoring single in the fifth. But the Rebels blew it open in their final at-bat.
They sent 10 to the plate, and McCrodden’s two-run single and Leonhardt’s RBI single plated runs along with a fielding error.
Wise, who threw 127 pitches against East Lincoln and 123 against Bandys (12-6), retired the side in order in the seventh to improve to 18-3 on the year.
She gave up a single to Shelbey Weddington in the second but worked out of a bases-loaded jam, then gave up a lead-off hit to Kat Barrow in the third but left her there.
In the sixth Mallory Bailey led off with a double, but Wise sat the next three down to end the threat.
In two games Thursday Wise struck out 13 –– nine against Bandys –– and gave up 14 hits.
“I can’t say enough good things about Wise,” Sain said. “We rode her today.”
The win was the seventh in a row for West Lincoln, which clinched the regular season title outright at Bandys on Friday on Madison Ferguson’s two-out, two-strike home run.
The Rebels took two of three this season from the Trojans, who were the only team to beat the champions in conference play.
Next up is the state playoffs, which begin on Wednesday. West Lincoln will find out its overall seed on Monday, and will host a first round playoff game under the lights, Sain said.
“It’s been a special season for these girls,” he said. “Now the real test begins next week.”
WEST LINCOLN 6
EAST LINCOLN 3
Both teams stranded 12, the Rebels had 12 hits to the Mustangs’ 11 but West Lincoln took advantage of four East Lincoln errors in the semifinal win.
Meredith Ferguson went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, Madison Ferguson went 3-for-4 with an RBI as West Lincoln took the lead late and held on.
Run-scoring hits by Madison Ferguson and Raeven McCrodden in the fifth turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead for the Rebels, who tacked on two more in the sixth on consecutive RBI hits by Katie Hively and Meredith Ferguson.
Ferguson plated the game’s first run in the first, then West Lincoln took a 2-0 lead in the third on Erin Huff’s sac fly.
East Lincoln (14-8), which downed Bunker Hill 10-7 in a tie-break game for the league’s No. 3 state playoff berth following the semifinal loss, got a run back in the fourth on Booth Braswell’s bases loaded walk.
Back-to-back RBI hits from Heidi Parker and Maddie Hatfield in the fifth put the Mustangs ahead 3-2, but the lead didn’t last long.
Taylor Wilson and Parker each went 2-for-3 and Payton Mills and Hatfield were each 2-for-4. Carly Johnson struck out four in the loss.