Daviess County wasn’t a state championship contender when John Biggs took over as its head softball coach in 2009, but it wasn’t a punching bag, either.
Biggs’ first season in charge was the year Owensboro Catholic won the last of its five titles, still the most by any program in Kentucky. The Aces swept three meetings against Daviess County that season, including a 2-1 nail-biter in the 9th District finals. It would take three more years before the Panthers would get their first win over Catholic under Biggs — and their first since 2002 — but several have come against the juggernaut since; four straight as of this season, in fact.
Now the Panthers have an opportunity to join their rival as the only 3rd Region teams to have won a fast-pitch title. They knocked off Lewis County 6-2 in the first KHSAA State Softball Tournament semifinal played Saturday at John Cropp Stadium.
“It’s been a process,” Biggs said. “When we took over the program we were definitely not the perennial power in that area. Over time, we feel like we’ve done it the right way, gotten a lot of kids in our program and have got it to where we can sustain this and continue this.”
Daviess County put up a first-inning run against the Lions — the 16th Region champs and a first-time participant in the state tournament — before unloading on them in the top of the third. Jessie Daniels, responsible for the Panthers’ first RBI, capped a five-run barrage with a three-run bomb off the scoreboard before Lewis County stopped the bleeding.
Raylee Roby held the Lions to just one hit through four innings. Emily Cole, her opposite in the circle, led off the fifth with a single but Lewis couldn’t move her. A one-out double by Maddie Johnson gave way to consecutive run-scoring singles (by Kayla Sullivan and Sarah Weddington) but that’s where the Lions’ only productive inning ended.
Roby struck out six and gave up just one earned run. Catching her was Millie Roberts, a junior who has committed to Auburn and is considered a top-10 recruit in the class of 2022. Roberts was 1-for-2 and drew a walk against Cole, a sophomore who’s also likely to play Division I ball in the future.
“I’m so happy for her to get to show it,” Lewis County Coach Joe Hampton said of Cole. “She backs up all the hype and showed everyone what she was capable of. She backs up her stats. Sometimes stats get sent in, get inflated. I think you got to see her and realized they are not inflated stats and she backs up all the hype behind her.”
Cole had 10 strikeouts and gave up just one more hit than Roby (six to five), but Lewis County committed four errors as a group, including two that aided the Panthers’ decisive frame. Daniels was responsible for all four RBI on Daviess County’s side.
“We all complement each other really well,” Daniels said. “If one of us is off, then the other is doing good. But when we’re all together, the top five (of the order), when we all click we do really well.”
Daniels on Saturday morning handed out temporary tattoos of a panther paw for her teammates to adorn prior to their semifinals debut. They’ll likely wear them against Butler in Sunday’s championship game, too.
“We were ‘tatted’ today and I think it brought us together as a team,” Roberts said. “It’s just something fun.”
Butler is back
Butler, the only one of this year’s semifinalists to ever play in a finals, defeated Green County 10-2 in Saturday’s second game.
The Bearettes trailed briefly before taking the lead for good in the bottom of the first. They answered a run by Green County with two of their own via a homer by Kyndal Tinnell, who for the second straight game finished 3-for-3 at the plate. The Florida International signee drove in four runs and scored two to help Butler reach the championship for the second time in school history.
“I’m just going up there, being more aggressive, hoping to get on and keep getting everybody scoring to get ahead in the game,” Tinnell said.
Both teams were seeing the ball well — Butler had just one more hit (10) than the Dragons (nine) — and played mostly error-free (Green County committed two mistakes, Butler one). After its early strike, however, Green County didn’t plate another runner until the fourth, cutting the Bearettes’ advantage to 4-2 at the time. Any regained momentum wilted in the bottom of the inning, wherein Butler doubled up its score. Butler was in position to walk off with a run-rule win in the fifth but had to settle for two final insurance runs.
Butler fell 3-1 to Reidland in 2002 in its only other finals appearance. It’s vying to become the fourth school from Louisville to win it all but the first out of the 6th Region (Mercy Academy, the 2012 champ, is now in the 6th Region but was part of the 7th Region that year).