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Softball loss brings life lessons as Boyle falls in state tournament

LEXINGTON — It was a day for life lessons.

It was not the day for the kind of storybook ending that makes sports so compelling, an unlikely comeback that would have extended Boyle County’s stay at the state tournament. No, this was a day for the Rebels to learn that not every day can be your day.

Friday certainly was not their day at the KHSAA State Softball Tournament, as their postseason run ended in the quarterfinals with a 6-2 loss to Lewis County at John Cropp Stadium.

Boyle had allowed only one run in six previous postseason games, but Lewis scored five runs in its last two at-bats to pull away. And the Rebels struggled when they were at the plate, managing only three hits and a total of four baserunners.

“Sometimes no matter how hard you go after your goals, you might get short, and that’s OK,” Boyle coach Brian Deem said. “It’s OK to fall short of your goals as long as you give everything you’ve got going after it, and that’s what my kids do, and because of that I’m proud of them.”

Boyle (28-7) had gotten out of some tight spots in its semifinal win over Johnson Central and escaped two jams in the early innings of Friday’s game.

But its luck ran out in the sixth inning when Lewis’ Kayla Sullivan smacked a two-out, bases-loaded triple to break a 1-1 tie.

“It’s like a prizefight: Sooner or later the body blows end up causing your knees to buckle, and we took a lot of body blows against Johnson Central, and we took a lot today,” Deem said. “As soon as I heard (Sullivan’s hit), I knew it was in the gap.”

It was the biggest of the seven hits Lewis (23-8) got off Boyle pitchers Kyndall Honaker and Kayleigh White. The Lady Lions also took advantage of eight walks and one wild pitch to score more runs than all but one Boyle opponent this season.

Meanwhile, the Rebels’ offense never really got going. Lewis pitcher Emily Cole, who entered the game ranked second in the state in earned-run average (0.79) and fifth in strikeouts (311), didn’t overpower Boyle’s hitters but never let them get untracked.

Cole (22-4) struck out only six batters — less than half of her seven-inning average — but she induced 12 groundouts.

“I was impressed with how she was moving the ball,” Deem said. “She did a really good job of hitting all four quadrants (of the strike zone), and when you work all four quadrants like Emily does, it makes hitting very difficult.

“Our plan was to try to look for a certain pitch, and if we weren’t able to get it or didn’t go after it we fell behind, so next thing you know … now we’re playing her game.”

Cole also contributed a leadoff home run in the fourth inning that tied the game at 1-1.

“That’s a hidden gem right over there,” Deem said. “She did an outstanding job in the circle, and she did a great job tying the game up.”

Emily Glasscock singled in the second inning, Lauren Tipton singled in the fifth and Honaker doubled in the sixth for the Rebels’ only hits.

“I never felt like we were being overpowered,” Deem said. “It just felt like we weren’t seeing the ball, and the kids were telling us that we’re not seeing the ball. So we tried to do some things to see the ball better, but she did a great job.”

White had been the starting pitcher in the Rebels’ previous three games, but she and Honaker had 17 starts each, and Honaker got the nod Friday.

Honaker gave up the homer to Cole in the fourth inning, then allowed a walk and a double before Deem made the change to White.

“We made a switch just because we felt like we could get a little bit more of a change of pace in the middle of the game that might work to our advantage, and it did,” Deem said.

“I felt like throwing Kyndall was the right call. Kayleigh had a great showing against Johnson Central, and … Kyndall’s an excellent pitcher, so I wasn’t worried about that.”

After an intentional walk loaded the bases, White (13-3) got a strikeout and a popup to prevent further damage.

She went on to retire six straight Lewis batters before three sixth-inning walks set the stage for Sullivan’s triple to right-center field, which gave the Lady Lions a 4-1 lead.

Boyle got a run back in the bottom of the sixth when Honaker doubled, moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Summer Ray’s groundout.

But Lewis came calling again in the seventh when its first three batters reached base on two singles and a walk. Kelsi Tackett drew a bases-loaded walk with one out, and Cole scored on a wild pitch with two outs.

The Rebels went quietly in the bottom of the inning on ground balls to the shortstop, third baseman and pitcher.

Boyle manufactured its first run with two outs in the second inning when Glasscock, who was named to the all-tournament team, singled, stole second, moved to third on a throwing error and scored on a passed ball.

“Yeah we wanted to go further, and who doesn’t? But Lewis County played an outstanding game,” Deem said.

Boyle was playing in the state tournament for the fourth consecutive season — it is the first team from the 12th Region to do so — and for the sixth time in nine seasons, while Lewis (23-8) is making its first appearance.

And while the Rebels were ranked No. 7 in the final coaches’ poll of the season and as high as No. 4 earlier in the year, Lewis was unranked all season.

Deem said the Lady Lions looked very similar to the way the Rebels played in their first trip to state.

“I sat there and I watched them, and I was like, ‘That is us in 2012,’” he said. “They didn’t have a care in the world. … I could see the difference between my kids who have been here, who want to get through. … I saw that team today playing very, very relaxed and with a very nothing-to-lose mentality.”

Boyle’s seniors went 86-26 in three seasons, regrouping after the pandemic to keep the Rebels at the top of the 12th Region, and some of them contributed as eighth-graders to the 2017 team that started the current streak of state tournament appearances after a three-year absence.

“They watched the groups before them win, and they came in when we were having a little bit of a lull and added that fire and that passion back into the program, and because of that, I’m proud of them,” Deem said. “They did what I asked them to do: They left the program in better shape than it was when they came in, and that’s all I can ask of my kids.”

The Rebels return five of the 10 players who started Friday, and Deem said he’s excited about the program’s future.

“I told those kids, ‘This game doesn’t define you as a person, as a team or as a program. This is just one of many chapters that this program is going to write,” he said.

“I’m excited for 2022, but right now I want to sit back and enjoy what 2021 offered us and just be grateful and count my blessings.”

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