BNL survives wild finish for 4-3 win over Jasper

JASPER – Bedford North Lawrence survived a wild finish to clip Jasper 4-3 during the 2024 softball season opener on Friday night.

Ava Ratliff crushed a two-run home run, and the Stars made key defensive plays in the final two innings, with freshman Macee Nicholson stepping into the fire during a tense relief stint in the circle, to hold off the Wildcats.

“It was a fight,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “I was proud of the effort. We made some great plays at the end, and we hung on.”

Ratliff, bearing down on the state’s career mark for home runs, got the Stars started with a blast in the first inning. Following a Tori Nikirk double, she clubbed a two-strike changeup over the scoreboard. That’s the 44th for the junior slugger, who needs only six more to match the record.

“That’s just what we needed,” Gilbert said. “Everybody could breathe a little bit.”

Ava Ratliff

BNL took a 3-0 lead in the third. With two outs, Ratliff singled to center, and Kendall Graves smacked a RBI double to left. Jasper battled back with two runs in the fifth. After three walks loaded the bases, Olivia Young laced a two-run single. The Stars took a 4-2 lead in the sixth on two Jasper errors.

In the sixth, the Wildcats loaded the bases with one out against BNL starter Aliza Jewell, who fanned 7 but walked 8. Gilbert summoned Nicholson, who had already pitched in the junior varsity contest. She got the first out when Haleigh Canada stopped a sizzling ground ball to third and fired to Ratliff at the plate for a force out. After Bryn Smith’s infield single scored Jasper’s third run, Canada made another stop for a force and the escape.

In the seventh, BNL right fielder Anna Williams threw out a runner at second for a force out, then made a key catch on Elise Lampert’s line drive.

“It was a total team win,” Gilbert said. “We did what we had to do to knock the ball down and make plays. I was really proud of the effort. We will have a lot of close games like that, and this will make us better. It was a good win.”

Ratliff had two hits and the two RBIs, and she also threw out three runners. “She’s showing why she was the national catcher of the year for two years in a row,” Gilbert said.

The Stars will host a split doubleheader on Saturday, facing Clay City at 11 a.m. before meeting Avon at approximately 4 p.m.