By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Hitting like a hammer, Braxton McCauley had the look. What in the world can make a brown-eyed girl turn blue? When that brown-eyed girl turns on a pitch . . . la la la la la . . . she’s got the look of lovin’ that swing.
McCauley, Bedford North Lawrence’s Purdue-bound boilerblaster, attacked the first pitch she saw in the fourth inning and slugged a vicious two-run home run, powering the No.7 Stars to a 3-0 victory over Seymour as BNL started its defense of the Class 4A sectional title with a first-round win on Monday night.
With senior hurler Annie Waggoner in dominant form, BNL (24-7) advanced to the semifinal round for a rematch with Floyd Central on Tuesday night. New Albany, a 4-3 victor over Jennings County in the sectional opener, will face Jeffersonville in the first semifinal. Those winners will collide in the final on Thursday.
Waggoner, an Indiana State recruit, was whirling like a dervish, striking out 13 while allowing only three hits. All she needed was a little offensive support, and McCauley supplied that with the big blow, a missile-launched bomb to right that eased BNL’s postseason jitters.
The Owls (8-17) were a tough foe to vanquish. BNL had struggled with them during the regular-season battle, escaping with a 7-4 win (on May 9) by scoring four times in the seventh inning, and the Stars had only one hit when Waggoner led off the fourth with a four-pitch walk from Seymour starter Phoebe Underwood.
McCauley, after grounding out in the first, made an adjustment in the batter’s box, moving back away from the plate. She is used to a steady diet of outside pitches, but this time she was poised to pounce.
“I knew, if she came in, I was going to attack it,” McCauley said. “Watch it. If it’s my pitch, I’m going to hit it. And I hit it. And it went.”
Oh, it went. A long way, it went. It had the look right off the bat. No doubt about its destiny.
“It was something different with Braxton,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “The look on her face, she was locked in. She looked confident, smooth and relaxed.”
The Stars added a key insurance run in the sixth. With one out, Kendall Graves ripped a hard single to left, and Tori Nikirk followed with a sharp single to right-center. Graves raced to third, and when the throw went to that bag, Nikirk dashed for second. The Owls also attempted to get that out, failed as Nikirk slid in safely, and Graves scampered home.
“That was huge,” Gilbert said. “Three is always better than two. It’s nice to add on.”
That was all Waggoner (15-5) needed. She registered double digits in strikeouts for the seventh time this season.
“She was on,” Gilbert said. “She moved it around well. She painted the corners and mixed it up.”
Seymour had some brilliant defensive highlights. In the fifth, with two runners on, Waggoner blasted a laser line drive to center, where Addyson Coomer made a terrific diving catch to save two runs.
BNL, which was averaging 9.2 runs per game, made the most of seven hits. Lauryn Anderson had two and also made a great leaping backhand catch of line drive near second base.
“It’s survive and advance,” Gilbert said. “Maybe there were a little bit of nerves. I like the bye, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an advantage to play and get those things out.”
“We were so hyped up,” McCauley said. “We didn’t calm ourselves down to focus.”
BNL will now seek revenge against the No.11 Highlanders, who thumped the Stars 7-0 during the regular-season clash at Floyd and went on to win the Hoosier Hills Conference crown. “We’re excited,” McCauley said. “It’s on. We’re ready.”
“We’ll be ready,” Gilbert said. “If we play like we did tonight, I like our chances. We’re at home, we just need to play loose and play our game, keep battling.”