By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Like an aging heavyweight, absorbing punishment and clutching the ropes for support, hoping to stay on his feet and land a miracle blow, Bedford North Lawrence staggered and summoned all the fight it could muster.
Then came the knockout. Floyd Central, the hungry challenger, stood over the fallen, making sure the Stars stayed down on the turf this time. There was no recovery, only tears as the defending champion slumped in the corner, vanquished despite the valiant battle. The title will change hands.
The No.11 Highlanders, slugging away with power and speed, decked No.7 BNL twice with big-scoring rounds, and the second strike was the brutal ending as Floyd cuffed the Stars 12-5 in the Class 4A sectional semifinal on Tuesday night.
Floyd Central (25-7) advanced to the championship to face New Albany, which edged Jeffersonville 4-3 in the first semifinal, on Thursday. BNL, the two-time defending sectional winner, bowed out at 24-8, finishing the most successful three-year span in program history with an earlier postseason exit than it envisioned.
The Stars couldn’t duck the Floyd barrage. BNL was built on a devastating offense, with heavy hitters in the middle of the lineup. Guess what. The Highlanders, who had thumped BNL 7-0 during the regular season clash, had just as much pop in their bats and speed on the bases. Floyd blasted two homers, stole four bases, applied pressure and never backed down. The Highlanders scored five runs in the third inning to take control, five in the seventh to finish the dominating triumph.
“You have to tip your hat to them,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “We threw some good pitches, and it didn’t matter. There were times we kept them guessing, and there were times they got the bat on the ball. We just got beat by a good team.”
BNL went down swinging. Ava Ratliff, the sophomore sensation, ripped two home runs, breaking her own school record with her 22nd of the season. Braxton McCauley belted one of her own as the Stars fought back from a 7-1 deficit and got within bloop-and-blast range at 7-5. Then came the Floyd finale. BNL fell hard.
“We knew what we were capable of,” Floyd coach Sean Payne said. “We have a pretty strong lineup, and the girls have been hyper-focused this year. That group of seniors (in the BNL dugout) has really put it on us the last several years. We just had to get them one more time. I’m glad we could finally get one.”
The Stars struck first when Ratliff cranked a solo home run to left in the first. Floyd came right back with Emory Waterbury’s two-run bomb in the second, but the buckling blast was the five-run third. Floyd tagged BNL hurler Annie Waggoner with six straight hits, including a lasered RBI triple to right by Taylor Chumbley and a towering two-run homer to left by Kate Satkoski.
“That was huge,” Payne said. “It was going to be a heavyweight fight. They were going to throw punches, we had to throw bigger punches. We did a good job of that. There’s no lead that’s comfortable with their lineup.“
BNL was down but not dead. In the bottom of the third, Lauryn Anderson singled and Ratliff – and why another chooses to throw the slugger strikes is inexplicable – hammered a two-run bomb to right, making it 7-3. Later in the inning, Aliza Jewell jolted a RBI double, powering BNL a run closer. In the fifth, McCauley slammed a two-out solo homer to center, and BNL was back in business.
“I was proud of our team,” Gilbert said. “We could have folded. Just proud of the kids, proud of the effort.”
Then Floyd took care of business in the seventh. With the top of the lineup back up, the Highlanders exploded. Two soft singles and a dropped throw set the stage for the Floyd bludgeon brigade, and what followed was bloody as Chumbley (sacrifice fly), Satkoski (two-run triple), Emmy Miller (RBI single) and Maddie Luckhardt (RBI double) did the final damage.
Floyd banged out 16 hits, with six batters collecting two apiece. There was no such thing as an easy out. Satkoski had 4 RBIs. Miller came on in relief in the circle and allowed only two hits during the last four innings.
McCauley and Jewell joined Ratliff with a two-hit night. Waggoner struck out 7 but was knocked around for 15 hits and 11 earned runs. This was best on best, and Floyd was better.
While the Highlanders celebrated, their joy will be short and bittersweet if they don’t back up the win over the defending champion with a victory in the final. “And New Albany has 13 seniors that would love nothing more than to send us home,” Payne said.
BNL was sent home, from its home park, as the careers of four seniors ended in sobs and sorrow.
“You want to play your best game in your last game,” Gilbert said. “The kids battled, we were right in it. They’re devastated right now, and a lot of it is they love each other and love playing. It’s over. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.
“We broke almost every offensive record. They raised the bar. It will be tough for players coming in and looking at those stats. That’s our benchmark now. It’s a lot to be proud of.”
The sectional champion will host the victor from the sectional at Evansville North in the one-game regional on May 30.