Bailee Gunnell did a lot of watching Tuesday before grabbing a bat and heading into the spotlight.
The Ross High School freshman was a pinch-hitter with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning during a Division II district softball semifinal against Badin at Kings.
How did Gunnell get there? Well, senior pitcher Kenzie Meyer told Ross coach Pat Spurlock that her back was acting up a bit and a pinch-hitter, specifically Gunnell, was a good idea.
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“I actually told coach, ‘Hey, let’s put a freshman in for my at-bat,’ ” Meyer said. “I was like, ‘I think Bailee’s the right kid.’ ”
Spurlock opted to go with Gunnell, and she responded with a hard ground ball on a 2-0 pitch. It went down as an error when the ball couldn’t be handled on the left side of the infield, but Ashley Shelton scored to give Ross a 4-3 victory.
“It was kind of like the perfect pitch, one of my favorites,” Gunnell said. “I wanted to get it over with. I was confident because even if I got out, there was still another out left. And if I got the hit, we win.”
Meyer was happy to join the postgame celebration.
“We just ran out and, of course, we dogpiled on Bailee,” Meyer said. “She was kind of freaking out. I think that’s the first time she’s ever been in something like that.”
It was an emotional ending to a classic clash between Butler County rivals. Second-seeded Ross (20-4) beat third-seeded Badin (22-4) for the second time this season, the first being a 4-0 decision back in March.
Ross will travel to the old Lebanon Junior High School for a district championship matchup against Greenville on Friday at 5 p.m.
“I’m super excited because the kids are working hard and buying into everything,” Spurlock said. “They played great today. They stayed really focused and played really good defense. You’ve got to give it to Badin for doing a phenomenal job. Sometimes you’ve got to go through adversity, and our girls kept fighting back.”
Ross led 1-0 and 3-2 and was one strike away from victory in the top of the seventh inning when Badin’s Sara Fields lined a double to score Sydney Rawlings, who had reached base on an error.
Fields had two RBIs and Maddie Curtner added one for Badin. Fields, Curtner and losing pitcher Nicole Rawlings all had two hits.
“That’s what it’s like in the tournament,” Badin coach Greg Stitzel said. “I’m feeling empty because I really was looking forward to moving on to the next level. We gave it hell, though. We battled right there with them.”
Maddy Foster contributed three hits for Ross. Kaitlyn Justice drove in two runs, Whitley Arno had two hits and an RBI, and Emily Poling and Haley Grau chipped in two hits apiece. Defensively, center fielder Alexia Ploehs provided a diving catch to rob Josie Link of a hit in the sixth.
In the 10th, Foster led off by popping out on a bunt attempt. Shelton singled and went to third when Justice bunted and headed to second after a Badin throwing error. Grau was intentionally walked to load the bases, bringing Gunnell to the plate.
“What we’ve been talking about is when it’s your time, you have to step up,” Spurlock said. “Nicole was getting the ball up, and we knew that was kind of Bailee’s thing. We were just hoping she would hit one and hit it hard. Even though it was a 2-0 pitch, I just gave her the sign to swing when it hits a certain spot.”
Nicole Rawlings gave up 11 hits and struck out three, while Meyer gave up 10 hits and struck out 10. The Ross hurler admitted she was throwing on adrenaline toward the end.
“I was trying to just use my legs because my arm wasn’t really working as much,” Meyer said. “But it was still there.”
“Kenzie’s such a gamer,” Spurlock said. “Going 10 innings was definitely extreme, but if we went 17, she’d still be out there. That’s her. She understands her capabilities.”
Badin is losing five seniors: Anna Cantwell, Annie Wesner, Nicole Rawlings, Curtner and Link. Stitzel also started three freshmen Tuesday, and he noted that his team got bumped up to D-II this year because of competitive balance.
Tuesday’s contest marked the end of a 13-game winning streak for Badin, which shared the Greater Catholic League Coed Central Division title with McNicholas. BHS has won eight straight league championships.
“It was a really good season,” Stitzel said. “It was trying at times, but we held together. We’ll just battle on and move forward.”
WP — Kenzie Meyer (20-3); LP — Nicole Rawlings (15-4). Records: B 22-4, R 20-4