BARDWELL - After all the talk about a wide-open field at the First Region All A Softball Classic, the next champs might come from McCracken County anyway.
The players from Reidland and Heath are Mustangs now, but St. Mary made its case for the crown with a 10-0 win over Murray in Saturday morning's semifinal on the Carlisle County campus.
The Vikings will face Ballard Memorial, a 5-0 winner over Carlisle in Thursday's semifinal, for the championship here on Monday night at 7.
Saturday's opponents met earlier this season on another neutral site during the Marshall County Slugfest. The Tigers took that one 8-5 on March 21. Nearly a month later, it was mostly St. Mary.
Viking pitcher Rachel Denkins went 3-for-3 with two doubles and three RBI for the game, but she got herself into a jam early on. Denkins walked three of the first five batters she faced to load the bases, but she had confidence in her teammates.
"I just knew I had to get out of that jam," Denkins said after the game of that situation. "I knew if I let them hit, my team would back me up and I knew something good was going to come out of it."
Kelly Word and Lexi Carter did their part to keep Murray from scoring. Their work at short and third, respectively, kept several Tigers from poking the ball into left for any bases.
Once St. Mary got its turn at the plate, Denkins helped out there too. With Ashley Dunn on first via walk, Denkins drilled a 2-1 pitch from Savannah Grogan deep to center to score the only run the Vikings would need. They were nowhere near being done.
Alex Durbin singled to center to score Denkins and scored herself off a double to right-center by Word. Grogan would also load the bases on walks, bringing Word home on a walk to Bailey Ellingsworth. The first inning ended with St. Mary up 4-0.
The Vikings added three more runs in the second with an RBI bunt by Lakyn Largent and a two-RBI single to center by Word. In the third, Denkins returned to the plate with two on and one out. With a full count, she blasted another shot to center to bring those runs in. A single to left from Largent scored the final run and brought the 10-run rule into play.
As St. Mary was putting runs on the board, Denkins was keeping Murray scoreless and hitless from the circle. She finally gave up a hit to Morghen Turley to lead off the fourth. Another hit and a fielder's choice loaded the bases again with two out. Bayleigh Blaine hit a grounder to third, where Carter got the force to end that threat.
"The control from the mound is great," Denkins said of the difference between pitching and hitting for her team. "My team helped me so much and that just makes the game more enjoyable for me. It just keeps me up during the game."
Word and Largent both went 2-for-3 for St. Mary with Word driving in three runs and Largent two. Rachel Todd was 2-for-3 for Murray.
Murray 000 00 0 3 0
St. Mary 433 0x 10 10 0
Grogan, P. Blaine (3) and Moss; Denkins and Lurtz.
WP: Denkins. LP: Grogan.
2B: S-Denkins 2, Word. 3B: none. HR: none. Top hitters: M-Todd 2-3; S-Denkins 3-3 (3 RBI), Word 2-3 (3 RBI), Largent 2-3 (2 RBI). Records: Murray 8-7, St. Mary 7-7.
Contact Jon Futrell, a Paducah Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8664