Before their Sixth Region matchup with No. 7 Bullitt East on Monday, the No. 13 Holy Cross Cougars huddled and chanted, "All D, No E." Their "D" let them down for one inning, and that was all the visiting Chargers needed in a 3-0 victory that propelled Bullitt East to a regional semifinal against Butler on Thursday.
The Cougars finished the season 29-5. The Chargers are 34-5.
"Big game," said Bullitt East coach Ricky Hoffman. "That's a good team. They had a record similar to ours, basically playing the same schedule we played."
Except for that fateful top half of the third inning, the two teams mirrored each other on Monday. Winning pitcher Morgan Raymer (28-4) struck out 10 batters, as did losing pitcher Madison Ray (24-4). While Ray didn't hit for the Cougars, Raymer came up with a huge two-run home run to give herself a three-run cushion to work with the rest of the game. With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, she was probably glad that cushion was there as she finished off the Cougars with a popup and a strikeout.
"She's been lights out on the mound all year," said Hoffman. "She never breaks down. She's the same competitor from the first pitch to the last pitch. She's just a great player."
Raymer singled in the first inning, and pinch runner Shelby Maris stole second. But Ray escaped by striking out Kelsey Gravens, her third strikeout of the inning. Bullitt East put runners on first and second with one out in the second, but Ray struck out Shelby Harris and Bri Hare to escape again.
Raymer, meanwhile, retired the first 10 batters she faced.
Ray gave up a single to Nikki Hinkley to start the third inning. A passed ball put Hinkley on second, and then Emily Salyer hit a high popup directly behind second base. Three players were in the vicinity, but the ball dropped and when Hinkley took off for third the throw went into the third base dugout, allowing Hinkley to score.
"We've been so fundamentally strong all year," said Holy Cross coach Krystle Johnson. "It wasn't one person's fault. You win as a team and lose as a team. Besides, we could have made up for it with our bats, but we didn't."
With Salyer standing on second base, Raymer lined a pitch barely over the left field fence for a 3-0 advantage.
"All I could think about was just get it to the grass so my teammate could score," said Raymer. "I was looking for a good pitch to hit and I found it."
From that point on it was simply a question of whether or not the Cougars could score. Through six innings they had two hits, thanks in part to some fine defensive plays made by Raymer, who made a diving catch on a popup, then threw to first for the double play, and by the Bullitt East outfield.
"Yesterday in practice we worked hard on angles on fly balls, knowing that the outfield here is pretty big," said Hoffman. "All three outfielders made great plays."
So Holy Cross's season came down to the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Shelby Atzinger was hit by a pitch. Bayley Brutscher and Maranda Jacobs followed with singles and suddenly the home team had life. But Raymer induced a popup by Caroline Hale and then struck out Katelyn Heines to end it all, just like that.
"It wasn't really expected," said Holy Cross' Johnson of the loss. "We've been hitting well all year long and we just came out and didn't hit the ball much. It was so unlike us.
"She was throwing strikes and the strike zone was called a little inconsistently, but we just weren't hitting as aggressively as we have all year long and that was our problem."
* Southern 4, Pleasure Ridge Park 3: Sophomore Rachael Metcalf struck out nine and sparked a fifth-inning rally with a single as the host Lady Trojans (19-13) beat the Lady Panthers (11-11).
Southern scored twice in the fifth for a 4-2 lead, taking advantage of Metcalf's hit, a double steal and a PRP error.
* Butler 8, Bullitt Central 0: Courtney Rose went 3 for 3 with two doubles and two RBIs to lead the host Bearettes (26-13) over the Lady Cougars (20-8). Butler's Abby Ziegler tossed a two-hitter and struck out seven.
* Mercy 18, Doss 0: The host Jaguars (31-7) scored eight runs in the first inning and seven more in the second of a game called after three innings. The Dragons finished 11-8.