BEREA — Before Monday, the Madison Southern softball team had not faced Western Hills this season.
The Lady Eagles were scheduled to compete against the Lady Wolverines earlier this year, but the game was canceled.
That hiccup didn’t stop Southern from rolling to a 5-1 victory on Monday in the first round of the 11th Region Tournament.
Madison Southern coach Abbey Stepp said the team made sure to use their scouting reports and took advantage of a long break to prepare for the Lady Wolverines.
“We knew (Western Hills' pitcher) was going to throw outside a lot and that she wasn’t overpowering with the speed. We worked a lot in the tunnels and one of our pitchers, Sage Jackson, threw to our girls yesterday to give a lot of live batting practice. Today, we got our toes on the chalk and tried to take away the outside pitch and it worked in our favor,” Stepp explained.
That preparation has paid off all season for the Lady Eagles (26-8) — who have already set a new school record for wins.
Stepp said the team hopes to keep the momentum going.
“We’ve made it one game farther than last year. I’m so proud of this team. I keep telling them, as long as we take care of ourselves it helps us worry less about other teams,” the coach said.
The sixth-straight wins set up a showdown with Scott County — last year's state champion — in the 11th Region Tournament semifinals.
The game is set for 8 p.m. Tuesday at Tates Creek High School.
Southern has not made it past the first round of the 11th Region tournament since 2016. That season, the Lady Eagles ran into Scott County and were handed a 3-0 loss.
On Monday, Southern put together a solid all-around performance.
Tessa Juett earned the victory in the circle. She allowed just one run and two hits over seven innings. She had 12 strikeouts and walked six batters. She was also 2-for-4 at the plate and scored two runs.
The pressure was on for the sophomore in the seventh inning.
After holding the LadyWolverines to just one run and one hit, Juett walked three batters to load the bases up.
“I was hot and tired,” Juett admitted. “It helped that my team had gotten the runs and that relieved a lot of pressure and I knew my defense was behind me. I just kept thinking, ‘One more out, one more and we move on.’”
Stepp said she had faith in Juett and knew the left-hander would find a way out of the inning.
After a small pep talk at the mound, Juett did just that.
The pitcher struck out the final two batters and eliminated any chance for a rally.
“I just looked at her and I said, ‘I need just one more.’ She is a tough kid. Even with bases loaded, a run wasn’t going to hurt us. I thought she did a great job today. I knew she was hot and her arm was tired, but she battled through,” Stepp said.
While Juett held down the circle, Samantha Cornelison took care of business at the plate.
The sophomore was 4-for-4, had two doubles and two singles, scored two runs and had two RBI.
“I’ve been getting jammed up on inside pitches recently, so we have worked on that. I’ve done a lot of practice in the tunnel and it has really helped at the plate,” Cornelison said of her hot-hitting streak.
Cornelison got the Lady Eagles rolling early in the first inning with a single to left field. Kennadi Story drew a walk and then Payton Griffith singled on a hard ground ball to drive in a run to give Southern a quick 1-0 lead.
Juett retired the side in the top of the second and catcher Alicia Venter got a crucial out in foul territory in the third to protect the lead.
Southern got going again in the bottom of the third when Story singled and Griffith put down a bunt to push the Lady Eagles ahead 3-0.
Cornelison singled and Juett scored on a throw to give the Lady Eagles a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Western Hills answered in top of the fifth.
After two singles and a walk, a run scored on a passed ball.
Juett struck out the final two batters.
Cornelison came through and doubled in the next inning to expand the Lady Eagle lead to 5-1 before the seventh-inning showdown.
The ball sailed over the right fielder’s head and looked to almost go over the fence, but smacked the fence rail before tumbling back inside the park.
“I’m not going to lie, I thought it was out,” Cornelison said with a grin. “Once I hit first base, I saw it was inside and just kept running.”
Kennadi Story was 2-for-3, scored a run, had an RBI and drew a walk. Payton Griffith was 2-for-3, had two RBI and two stolen bases. Zaria Carter was 1-for-3 and Caylen Conrad and Kayla Pigg both walked.
Cornelison said the Lady Eagles are determined to go a far as they can.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, we just need to come out solid on defense and hit the ball well and do what we know to do. We battle. We fight through tough teams and tough innings. It we keep doing that. We should be fine,” Cornelison said.