PADUCAH – In a month’s time from the start of the 2019 softball season, Graves County only had seven wins to show out of 17 games that concluded with an 8-0 loss to South Warren at the mid-April Marshall County Slugfest.
Either the switch flipped or the flip switched and the Lady Eagles tore through the second half of the season with reckless abandon. They won four of their next seven and then closed out the regular season and went three games into the postseason on a 10-game win streak.
After all of that – plus weather delays, cancellations, a move to Murray State University and then back to Paducah Tilghman’s home field – it all finally culminated Friday afternoon in the First Region Softball Tournament championship game against Marshall County.
Similar to its overall season, Graves County got down then battled back to overtake the Lady Marshals, 5-4. But the defending regional champs still had something to prove, even though their coach Mallory Newton stressed her team play loose and fearlessly, and came back to end the Lady Eagles’ season and advance in the state tournament, 7-5.
“We played one of toughest schedules Graves County’s probably ever played in softball and it made us tougher at the end,” second-year head coach Scott Tucker said. “We beat McCracken County 10-0 (Tuesday in the semifinals), so we can put that in our pockets.
“(We) win 10 of last 11, finish up with 21 wins again, make finals of regionals. Can’t say much more,” he added, “other than we need to finish it off and win that regional.”
Marshall County (27-13) jumped ahead in the second inning with a two-out double by McKenzie Elkins, who scored on Addie Young’s hit down the third baseline that hopped over Graves County’s Brittany Harrison’s shoulder.
A walk and error later with bases loaded, Cayson Conner’s single to right dropped and allowed Young and Layne Pea, who walked in her at-bat, to score, 3-0.
Kinley Edwards’ RBI double in the third inning pushed the Lady Marshals’ lead to 4-0 before Graves County (21-14) made a pitching switch from ace Kristin Wimsatt to sister Bailey Wimsatt for the final two outs and was able to rev up its offense in the bottom half of the frame.
Starting pitcher Gabbi Lovett hit three Lady Eagle batters and allowed a single to put Graves on the scoreboard before Murt relieved her after 2 2/3 innings. The result opened with a bases loaded walk that gave way to a tying two-run single by Memphis Lassiter and Carson Travis’ go-ahead RBI single.
“I was just constantly, ‘not a big deal, we’re not panicking, stay really calm,’ and that translated to them,” Newton said after the win. “They stayed calm and had confidence.”
That helped ignite the rally in the top of the fourth with a tying RBI single from Charley Pursley and Murt’s go-ahead sac fly.
Lovett, who re-entered the game in the bottom of the seventh, gave up three hits and four earned runs with a pair of strikeouts and a walk. Murt, a senior who had not pitched much in her high school career, allowed two hits and two walks.
“Gabbi keeps that screwball on our hands and she just ate us up all night. We never figured it out. We never squared many balls up,” Tucker said. “We finally got to her in the fourth a little bit. When Gracey came in, we pounded her pretty good for one inning. After that, we had nothing.”
After a pair of shutout performances in the regional tournament, the Wimsatt pitcher sisters combined for 12 hits and five earned runs while fanning six and walking two.
“They squared (Kristin) up a couple of times and she was getting a little wild. Bailey comes in and does good job. She did her job,” tucker noted of the pitching change and re-inserting Kristin in the fifth frame. “When Kristin came back in, they had two bunts and a broken bat (hit) in front of Bailey (Wilson) and beat all three out and had a sac fly to score one run, but never hit a ball hard.
“Kristin was good all tournament,” he added. “They didn’t square up but couple of balls all night. We had chances.”
Graves County also says goodbye to seniors Wimsatt, Harrison, Neely Shoulta, Alyssa Goree and Makayla Spillman.
Three Lady Eagles were also named to the region’s all-tournament team – Wimsatt, Wilson and Cassidy Payne.