By ROCKY HIGGINBOTHAM

Kemper County Messenger



One year ago, Kemper Academy's fast-pitch softball team started the season with only 11 players and won just two contests.

Goodness, what a difference a year can make.

Kemper erupted for nine runs in the top of the fifth inning last Monday night at Calhoun Academy, whipping the host Lady Cougars 16-7 to capture the District 3-A championship.

The win finished off a clean sweep at 6-0 inside the district for the Lady Rams, who went on to beat Class AAA Winston Academy 5-4 last Wednesday to wrap up the regular season on a big note.

"I couldn't think of two better wins for the girls going into the playoffs," Kemper Academy coach Robert Luke said before his team began postseason play on Saturday.

KA entered the playoffs with an 11-6 overall record. "I think we've made improvements all the way around," Luke said. "Offense, pitching, defense. I couldn't be prouder of these girls."

Kemper had beaten Calhoun by just a run when the teams tangled in DeKalb earlier this year.

Last Monday, the Lady Rams fell behind 4-0 in the first inning and were still trailing 7-5 after four frames.

But the nine-run rally in the fifth put Kemper ahead for good and the Lady Rams never looked back.

Sara Gaylord was 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored and Allie Redmond was 3-for-4 with two runs scored to lead Kemper.

Libba Dudley and Anna Morgan King both had two hits and two runs scored and Alyssa Gully added two hits and another run. Avery Luke singled, scored three times and drove in two runs; Jordan Gully singled and scored twice; and Jena Bobo and Kristen Cook added the team's other runs.

Cook went all seven innings in the circle and struck out six to get the win.

On Wednesday in the regular-season finale at home, Kemper was trailing Class AAA Winston 2-1 going into the bottom of the fifth inning.

Abby Rose got KA's rally started in that frame with a pinch-hit double. Dudley followed up later with a two-RBI triple, and she raced home to score herself when the throw back to the infield got away.

That made it 5-2, and Kemper snuffed out a Winston rally in the final inning to avenge an earlier loss to the Lady Patriots.

Cook was not only the winning pitcher, she was 2-for-2 with two runs and an RBI while Dudley had the triple and two RBIs. Rose doubled and scored; Bobo singled, stole two bases and scored; and Gaylord singled and drove in a run.

The 2017 season was one to remember for Kemper Academy’s fast-pitch softball team.

The postseason was not what the Lady Rams had in mind, however.

Fresh off a district championship, Kemper’s girls ventured to Calhoun City for the MAIS Class A North State Tournament last Saturday – where they made a quick exit from the 12-team, double-elimination event.

“It just wasn’t our day,” KA coach Robert Luke said after his squad lost 10-0 to North Sunflower Academy and 7-4 to Hebron Christian School.

Kemper committed 11 errors in the two contests and saw its season end with an overall record of 11-8. KA finished 2-9 in 2016.

“It’s been a great year, one in which I think the girls saw the potential they have,” Luke said. “We just didn’t play well at the very end.”

The Lady Rams made six errors and managed just five base hits in the loss to North Sunflower, two of them from Jena Bobo.

Alyssa Gully, Allie Redmond and Anna Morgan King had the other hits with singles, while Bobo had a single and double.

NSA scored once in the first inning, then erupted for five runs in the second to take control and never looked back.

KA actually had 14 base hits in the second contest, but lost two runners on the basepaths and stranded 14 others in a disappointing loss to Hebron.

Redmond was 4-for-4 and Libba Dudley had a double, two singles and two runs scored to lead the way.

Bobo had two hits and a run scored; Sara Gaylord was 1-for-1 with three walks; King had two singles; Jordan Gully had a single and an RBI; and Cook had a single and one run scored.

KA grabbed a quick 2-0 lead, but Hebron answered with two runs in the top of the second inning. The Lady Eagles got single runs in the third and fourth frames to go up 4-3 and never trailed again.