Karns City recovers to reach District 9 finals again
It is back to the District 9 finals for Karns City softball.
Gremlins pitcher Taylor Downs allowed two earned runs in seven innings and drove in a pair of runs to give No. 2 Karns City a 9-3 win over No. 3 Redbank Valley in the D-9 Class AA semifinals Tuesday at Chicora Elementary School.
Taylor Ritzert and Ashley Coon also drove in two runs each for Karns City (11-3), which will face the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between No. 1 Moniteau and No. 4 Cranberry at a site and time next week to be determined.
It will be the second consecutive district final for the Gremlins, who fell behind 2-0 before surging ahead with two runs in the first inning and four runs in the second.
“It’s big to respond by coming back to get two (runs) and make it a six-inning ball game from there,” Karns City coach Buddy Gibson said. “That was big, and it keeps the momentum right where it needs to be.”
Lexi Holt went 3 for 4 with an RBI for Redbank Valley (11-5), and she scored the first run on a Lauren Rearick RBI groundout. The early lead was exactly what the Bulldogs needed after being shut out in their last meeting with the Gremlins, but Redbank Valley was unable to keep the bats going.
“We started out the way we wanted to, but (Karns City) has hit us all year long. They’re a good hitting team,” Redbank Valley coach John Sayers said. “I don’t know what it is about (Downs), and nothing against her, but we’ve hit better pitching. We just never seem to be able to tag it against her.”
After the first inning, Downs allowed just five hits, a walk and a sixth-inning run.
It was yet another strong performance for the junior, who has handled most of the pitching this season with fellow junior LeeAnn Gibson recovering from surgery on her hand. Gibson was back in the lineup Tuesday and had an RBI, but she played shortstop while Downs worked in the circle.
“She’s been pitching lights out,” Buddy Gibson said. “She’s keeping batters guessing and making them hit the ball, not walking them. The defense has been doing the job, and she’s keeping us in ball games.”
Downs was on the losing end of a 4-1 decision Thursday against Moniteau, the defending District 9 champ and the team Karns City expects to face again in the final next week.
With her continued improvement and the Gremlins’ strong hitting — something that only stands to improve with Gibson back in the No. 2 spot in the order between Coon and Ritzert — Karns City expects to make this year’s final closer than Moniteau’s 7-1 win a year ago.
“I really think we know we can hang with them,” Buddy Gibson said. “Early on in the season, we had some unfortunate things happen, but we fought through it and we’re where we need to be now. We’re ready to give them heck and see what happens.”
Redbank Valley will remain mostly intact going into the offseason with just three seniors and one senior starter, outfielder Megan Nolf, graduating next month. With eight of nine starters slated to return, the Bulldogs should be able to challenge for its first district final appearance since 2013.
“It’s not like it was a regular game. It was a playoff game and nerves were there,” Sayers said. “We’ve got to hit the ball, and we can’t give up big innings. Hopefully, we’ll learn from this and next year will be a different story.”