MURRAY - Rachel Ridolfi has quietly been the backbone for McCracken County from her backstop position behind the plate handling the Lady Mustangs' four-headed pitching machine this season.
So it was appropriate that the sophomore catcher got things going for top-ranked McCracken County with her solo home run in the top of the second. She then got to sit back and watch winning pitcher Jenny Chapman throw a near-perfect game and her teammates explode for four runs in the top of the seventh, lifting the Lady Mustangs to a 7-0 victory over Graves County in the First Region Softball Tournament championship game Thursday night at Lady Laker Field.
"We just needed something to get us going," said Ridolfi, who went 3 for 3, with a walk, three runs and an RBI. "So I just went up there knowing I was going to get a hit and was looking for my pitch. I got it and was able to hit it out."
Ridolfi's run might have been the only one Chapman needed, but the Lady Mustangs added one each in the top of the third and fourth and then sealed it with the four-run top of the seventh.
Chapman did her part by striking out 11, including the side in the bottom of the first. She didn't let a runner reach until Graves County lead-off batter Chloe Grover reached in the bottom of the sixth thanks to an error at short and didn't give up her first hit until Lindsey Whitlock, the third batter in the top of the seventh, smacked a two-out double.
Chapman then got Taylor Clark to fly out to center and the Lady Mustangs (35-5) were able to celebrate their first First Region Softball championship.
"I just made sure all my pitches were working," said Chapman, who faced two batters over the minimum. "I just tried to keep them off balance, because I knew it would be a big deal to go to state in our first year."
McCracken County, which outscored its opponents 33-1 in its three First Region Tournament games, moves on to the 2014 KHSAA Fast Pitch State Tournament, where it will play 16th Region champion Ashland Blazer, a 7-2 winner over Boyd County, at 5 p.m. on June 5 on the red field at Jack Fisher Park in Owensboro.
"This is something that no one said we could do," McCracken County coach Tony Hayden said. "Everybody across this state said we couldn't do it. They said there would be too much turmoil, too much competition and that the kids would start fighting. I won't say it's been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's never perfect wherever you're at. But the bottom line is these girls want to play for one another and they've proved it time and time again. I haven't seen where we're not going to play for one another and that's what's been so good about this group of girls."
Casey Wade took the loss for Graves County (25-12), which played in its first-ever First Region Tournament championship game and set also a program record for wins in a season. Wade struck out seven and walked seven.
"This is the first time all year we've been shut out," said Graves County first-year coach Stan Waller. "It comes at a bad time, but at the same time these girls went beyond expectations. No one thought we'd be here in the finals of the region. Nobody gave us a chance to beat some of the teams we did this year. But we're battlers. We lose three seniors, and they're all valuable to us, but we'll come back next year and find a way to win."
Rachel Ridolfi's homer in the top of the second, Hannah Ridolfi's RBI single in the top of the third that scored Bailey Vick and Jacqueline Roof's run-scoring base hit that plated Rachel Ridolfi in the top of the fourth gave the Lady Mustangs a 3-0 lead.
And it looked like McCracken County wasn't going to score anymore in the top of the seventh once it recorded its second out with two runners on first and second.
But things changed when Vick was walked to load the bases. Roof then came up and dropped in a two-RBI single that scored Madeline Wooten from third, Rachel Ridolfi from second and Vick, who scored during the play from first when Graves County catcher Dana Adkins was trying to throw Roof out at second, but the ball sailed into short right field and let Roof get to third.
Roof finally made it home on Keely Barnes' single and made it 7-0. Two batters later Hannah Ridolfi flied out to center to end the inning.
Chapman got a flyout to left and one to center to start the bottom of the seventh. Whitlock stepped up and doubled for the Lady Eagles' only hit of the game. But then Chapman got Clark to fly out to center to end it.
"Jacqueline's hit gave me a big cushion and then they just kept going from there," Chapman said. "It was a big relief, but this team always comes through for me."
â “â “
McCracken County 011 100 4 7 11 1
Graves County 000 000 0 0 4 4
GC: Wade and Adkins; MC: Chapman and R. Ridolfi.
WP: Chapman. LP: Wade
2B: GC -Whitlock. 3B: none. HR: MC - R. Ridolfi. Top hitters: MC - Roof 2-3, run, 2 RBIs; Barnes 2-5, RBI; Henson 2-3; R. Ridolfi 3-3, 3 runs, RBI; Vick 1-2, 2 runs.
Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.