NORTH VERNON – Annie had her guns out. With one shotgun-blast swing, Bedford North Lawrence’s Annie Waggoner shot down New Albany’s potential upset flyover while powering the No.7 Stars to the sectional final.
Waggoner’s grand slam home run in the top of the second inning ignited BNL’s 12-3 victory over New Albany in the Class 4A semifinal at Jennings County on Tuesday night. The Stars (26-4) advanced to face Floyd Central in the championship game on Thursday.
Waggoner’s crushing jolt gave BNL a 7-3 lead, highlighting a six-run inning after New Albany (14-11) had stunned the sectional favorite with a three-run opening frame. That homer was one of four the Stars launched in a repeat performance of the regular-season clash on April 15 between the Hoosier Hills Conference rivals. BNL won that encounter 16-5 while ripping five home runs.
In addition to the power surge, Waggoner was a key force in the circle. She came on in relief after the Bulldogs exploded for their three runs in the first, and she slammed the door, striking out 12 while improving to 18-1.
“She came in when we needed her to stop the bleeding and she pitched well,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “We’ll take it. She moved the ball around well. She did a good job of putting ball where we wanted it. She threw big for us.”
BNL started the scoring in the first with Sarah Stone’s solo home run. But that early advantage disappeared quickly when the Bulldogs bit back against BNL starter Aliza Jewell. After a one-out walk, New Albany collected three straight hits from Vanessa Burns (RBI double), Kimberly Vest (RBI double) and Cheyenne Palmer (RBI single) and forced Gilbert to make a pitching change.
“We weren’t stunned,” Waggoner said. “We knew they would come out hot and they were better than they showed the first time. We knew they would come out for our throats.”
The Stars retaliated immediately. Haley Deckard singled, Carlee Kern cranked a double to left, and Brylee Blackwell reached on a bunt single. When Blackwell allowed herself to get caught in a rundown, Kern scrambled home for a 3-3 deadlock.
After Lauryn Anderson reached on an error, Stone was intentionally walked to load the bases. On the next pitch, Waggoner foiled that strategy as she clubbed her home run to center.
“I was looking to to drive the ball, not hit it over the fence or do anything crazy,” Waggoner said. “She had not been throwing many first-pitch balls, so I decided to attack it. It shifted the whole game, got my teammates up.”
“When teams walk Sarah and we hit well behind that, they have to think twice,” Gilbert said. “It was nice to see. It might be the right call to walk Sarah and take your chances with someone else. But she got a pitch she liked.”
BNL added runs in the fifth (Braxton McCauley’s solo homer) and seventh (Brynlea Bennett’s RBI single and Kern’s three-run bomb).
The Stars totaled 12 hits. Stone, Waggoner and McCauley all had two each. BNL’s four home runs raised the season total to 44. Stone has hammered 16.
“All those tonight were well struck balls that jumped out of the park,” Gilbert said. “When you put a good swing on it and square it up, the ball will fly out.“
Palmer had two hits for the Bulldogs, who got only three against Waggoner in her 6 2/3 innings of work.
BNL will now face the Highlanders (6-4 winners over Seymour in the first semifinal) in the championship at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. The Stars won the regular-season clash 8-3 on April 23.
“I think both teams know each other,” Gilbert said. “If we attack pitches we can handle like we did tonight, I like our chances. They’re a good team, they’re fast and we have to keep them off the bases. We have to play good defense.”
The sectional winner will host the one-game regional on June 1.