No foolin’ the Stars as Jewell, Ratliff power BNL past Seymour for ninth straight victory

BNL coach Brad Gilbert greets senior Aliza Jewell at third base after her two-run home run against Seymour on Thursday. The Stars conquered the Owls 6-1 for their ninth straight win.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Stealing signs become part of the game the moment coaches and managers decided to use various hand signals to communicate plans. Knowledge is key, and deciphering messages in this difficult sport gives the code breakers a distinct advantage. Just ask the Houston Astros, who used technology for their World Series edge.

Aliza Jewell did it the old-fashioned way. She glanced back at the catcher as she stepped into the batter’s box. And what she saw didn’t help her at all. Seymour’s catcher flashed a hand signal that totally confused Bedford North Lawrence’s senior clean-up hitter. So she guessed. And she was correct.

Jewell launched a towering two-run home run to cap BNL’s scoring as the Stars smacked the Owls 6-1 on Thursday night. Ava Ratliff pitched five innings of flawless relief as BNL (15-9-1) extended its impressive winning streak to nine straight.

Fooling a pitcher with strange signals is unusual. Jewell has seen it all during her four-year career. And whatever finger waggling was happening behind her, it probably should be discontinued. Jewell turned on a 2-0 pitch and crushed a drive to deep right, giving her six homers this season as she has steadily, quietly climbed into third place on the school’s career list.

“I happened to look back, and the catcher called a hand sign that I hadn’t even seen,” Jewell said. “That was something different. I was like ‘Oh, crap.’ But then I thought it would be inside.” That pitch wasn’t inside far enough, and it didn’t stay inside the ballpark.

BNL’s Ava Ratliff pounded her 12th home run of the season and 55th of her career.

“I’ve just been grinding at it,” Jewell said, “trying to do the best I can with my hitting for the team.”

That blast capped a diverse attack. Ava Ratliff ripped a solo home run in the first (adding to her state career record with her 55th and taking the solo state lead with her 12th of the season) to get BNL started, and the Stars took advantage of two errors, aggressive base running and a perfect bunt for three go-ahead runs in the third.

The game’s key moment came in the top of the third. The Owls (5-13 overall, 0-6 in the Hoosier Hills Conference) jumped on Jewell with three consecutive hits (double by Macie Rawls, bunt single by Avery Stewart, single by Phoebe Underwood) for their run and loaded the bases with no outs. Ratliff, quickly brought in to douse the rally flames in the circle, got Abby Followell to ground to Haleigh Canada for a force out at the plate, and Zoe Williams grounded into a killer 1-2-3 double play to end the threat.

“The defense played well,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “That was huge. That was great to see us execute. It was perfect.”

From that point, the Owls were silent. Ratliff didn’t allow any hits, and she got 11 ground-ball outs.

BNL’s Anna Williams drops down a bunt to score a run in the third inning.

“Our plan was to rotate them a little bit,” Gilbert said. “I was going to put Aliza back in, but Ava was kind of grooving. She was hitting her spots. So we just kept right on going. Like Mike Tyson once said, you have a perfect game plan until you get punched in the mouth. And when it was 1-1, we didn’t worry about mixing it up.”

BNL’s three-run answer in the third started with Kendall Graves’ double off the fence in center. Jewell reached when her pop-up was dropped, and Danielle Stegeman followed with an infield single. When the late throw to first got away, both runners scored and Stegeman scampered to third. She came home when Anna Williams dropped a perfect bunt.

“Getting that extra 60 feet is something we talked about all year,” Gilbert said. “It’s exciting to see it all come together. I feel like we’re playing so much better than we have all year. We just have to keep it going.”

BNL finished HHC play at 5-1. Floyd Central clinched the league title at 6-0 with an 11-4 win over Jennings County, but the Stars definitely have momentum as they look ahead to a first-round sectional rematch with the Highlanders later this month.

“We got down at the beginning of the season, and we fought our way back up,” Jewell said. “The coaches kept saying it would happen. And it finally did.”

BNL will visit Charlestown on Friday.

BNL catcher Danielle Stegeman prepares to fire to first to complete a key double play in the third.
BNL’s Sara Williams celebrates after hitting a double off the fence in right.