OWENSBORO - Sometimes the heart of a champion isn't measured by the amount of titles won but by the intestinal fortitude it takes to overcome numerous obstacles.
McCracken County certainly proved its mettle by winning four games coming out of the losers bracket on Saturday just to get the chance to compete for the 2014 Worth/KHSAA Fast-Pitch Softball State Championship at Jack C. Fisher Park.
But unfortunately all good things must come to an end and after beating Scott County 11-1 in the first game of the championship series, the Lady Mustangs fell a run short of winning the school's first team state championship by losing in the second game to the Lady Cardinals 7-6.
"We said from the beginning that our team was a bunch of fighters and everyone had each other's backs today," said senior shortstop Jacqueline Roof, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, was given a $500 Worth Scholarship, hit a walk-off home run to beat Louisville Male and for the tournament went 12-for-27 with 11 runs, two homers and seven RBI. "Even when people thought we wouldn't make it to the championship games we all stayed together. I couldn't be more proud of my teammates. They all worked hard for this moment and I can't wait to see what they accomplish this year."
The effort it took for McCracken County (41-7) to make it all the way to Saturday's final four and the eventual championship series was especially impressive after a Friday night that saw it lose in the winners-bracket semifinals to Louisville Male 6-5 and then having to beat Madisonville-North Hopkins 13-5 in a losers bracket elimination game.
Then on Saturday, McCracken County got things going by beating Mercy 10-3, avenging its loss to Male 5-4 thanks to a Roof walk-off home run and then erupting for 10 runs in the bottom of the fourth to top Scott County 11-1 in five innings in the first championship game.
"This is a team of fighters," said senior pitcher Neely Quint, who went 2-1 during the tournament with a 1.98 ERA and 10 strikeouts over six appearances with one start in 17.2 innings and was named the Forcht Bank Uncommon Excellence Award winner. "I wouldn't trade any of them for the world. We came out here today, this weekend and this whole season and gave 110 percent all the 1B and even when we fell short. I couldn't ask for better teammates."
And things looked good for the Lady Mustangs after they scored four runs and tied game two of the championship series with Scott County 6-6 on a Keely Barnes double, an error by SCHS's Halie Fain, a base hit by Madeline Wooten and a ground out by Rachel Ridolfi. This came after Taylor Ricketts hit a grand slam as part of a five-run bottom of the third that gave Scott County a 6-2 advantage.
But the Lady Cardinals got the only run they needed to win in the bottom of the fifth when Hannah Davis' single scored Kelci Long.
"The only way you can win four like we did is to do it with a team like we've got," McCracken County coach Tony Hayden said. "We're a deep team and that's a big benefit for us. We had to go to our fourth pitcher at times, which is something we hadn't had to do until now. But everybody pitched in and did their part to get us here. Plus our bats came alive and we finally hit the ball. We had one bad pitch that almost decided the game. But it didn't keep us from having a chance to win it in the top of the seventh. These girls never quit. They don't know what it means to quit."
Along with Roof, Keely Barnes (14-for-29, 11 runs, 2 RBIs, 18 TB) and Madeline Wooten (9-for-26, 6 runs, 7 RBIs, 21 TB) were also named to the All-Tournament Team.
Losers Bracket Semifinals, McCracken County 10, Mercy 3 - As usual, once the Lady Mustangs bats got going in the bottom of the fifth inning the infection surge through the rest of the lineup and resulted in a six-run frame leading to their 10-3 win over Mercy.
After an out, Roof, Barnes and Henson loaded the bases and Hannah Ridolfi's double brought Roof and Barnes home and put McCracken County up 4-3.
But the frame wasn't over and it kept going with Wooten's double that plated Henson, moved Hannah Ridolfi to third and made it 5-3.
Rachel Ridolfi then cleared the bases with a three-run homer and extended the margin to 8-3.
The Lady Mustangs made it the final score when Roof and Henson came home on back-to-back base hits by Rachel Ridolfi and Wooten.
Losers Bracket Semifinals:
Mercy 001 020 0 3 8 1
McCracken County 001 162 x 10 12 0
MHS: Thomas and Hackel; MCHS: Quint, H. Ridolfi (6) and R. Ridolfi
WP: Qunit. LP: Thomas
2B: MC - Roof, Woooten. 3B: none. HR: MC - Ridolfi. Top hitters: MHS - Downey 2-4, run; Vorbrink 3-4, run, RBI; Thomas 1-3, 2 RBI. MC - Roof 2-3, 2 runs, RBI; Henson 2-3, 2 runs; H. Ridolfi, 2-3, 3 RBIs; Wooten 3-4, run, 2 RBIs; R. Ridolfi 1-3, run, 4 RBIs.
Losers bracket final, McCracken County 5, Male 4 - It appeared that Male was going to do it to McCracken County again and make a late-inning comeback when it scored three in the top of the sixth inning and tied the game at 4-all.
It's just that Roof made sure the Lady Mustangs wouldn't lose twice to Male when she clanked a solo home run to left and gave McCracken County its invitation to the championship series and the victory 5-4.
Male 100 003 0 4 2 0
McCracken County 004 000 1 5 7 1
Male - Wireman and Luckett and McIver; MC: Dodd, Qunit (5), H. Ridolfi (7) and R. Ridolfi
WP: H. Ridolfi. LP: Wireman.
2B: Male - Childress. MC - Roof, Harris. 3B: none. HR: Male - suski. MC - Roof. Top hitters: Male - Suski 1-4, run, 3 RBIs. MC - Roof 2-3, run, RBI; R. Ridolfi 2-3, run.
Championship Game 1
Scott County 000 0 1 1 4 5
McCracken County 100 (10)x 11 5 0
SC- Tevis, Sullivan (4) and Schneider (4); MC - Chapman and R. Ridolfi and Waldon.
WP: Chapman. LP: Tevis
2B: none. 3B: SC - Long. HR: none. Top hitters: SC - Fain 1-3; Tevis 1-2; Ricketts 1-2, run. MC - Roof 0-3, 2 runs; Barnes 1-2, run; Henson 1-3, 2 runs; RBI; Wooten 1-2, run; RBI; Harris 1-2, run, RBI.
Championship Game 2
McCracken County 110 040 0 6 10 1
Scott County 015 010 x 7 14 2
MC: Chapman, Dodd (3), Quint (3) and R. Ridolfi and Waldon; SC: Tevis and Ison.
WP: Tevis LP: Quint
2B: MC - Roof. SC - Smith, Long. 3B: none. HR: SC - Ricketts. Top hitters: MC - Roof 3-4, run, RBI; Barnes 1-4, run, RBI; Henson 2-4, run; H. Ridolfi 2-4, RBI. SC - Davis 2-4, RBI; Smith 2-4, run; Stamper 2-4, 2 runs, RBI; Luckett 2-3, run; Ricketts 3-4, run, 4 RBIs.
Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.