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It has been an up-and-down season for the Collins softball team.
The Titans won four of their first five games but then lost eight of their first 11 games to begin April.
Collins, however, won for the third time in its last four contests Monday night, slamming crosstown-rival Shelby County, 14-1, at the Shelby County Athletic Complex.
“Things are starting to come together, our defense, pitching and hitting,” senior pitcher Lauren Shepherd said. “We’re coming together as one team. We’re not just a bunch of individuals.”
Shepherd threw a complete-game 3-hitter – and nearly notched the team’s first shutout of the season – as the Titans improved to 3-0 against the Rockets.
She also had plenty of help, both at the plate and in the field. Collins collected 17 hits – freshman catcher Janelle Hynes went 4-for-5 and sophomore Shelbi Poehlein 3-for-5 – against a pair of Shelby County pitchers and backed up Shepherd with some solid defense.
“Our hitting is coming back around, and we’ve been working really hard on defense lately,” said Suzanne Cates, Collins’ first-year coach.
The Titans’ bats got them on the scoreboard first, in the first inning of the third scheduled meeting between the two teams – the first two were rained out.
Hynes, the second batter of the game, singled through the left side before Poehlein drilled a triple to right-center field.
“I really wanted to show them that we were here to do business,” she said.
Poehlein had done work recently, having gone 6-for-12 with five RBIs in her previous four contests.
“Shelbi’s been hitting the ball real well,” Cates said. “The light went on for her, and she hasn’t slowed down since.”
Poehlein credited her own improving self-confidence – “I just need to believe in myself,” she said – as well as her hitting coach, Devin Hicks (an assistant coach for the Shelby County baseball team), for her recent rise.
She scored what would be the winning run when Collins cleanup hitter Sydney Cloyd followed up her 3-base hit with a ground out.
The Titans (12-14, 1-1 in the 30th District) added another run in the fourth, when Cloyd doubled with one out and scored when Bailey Rankin’s single to left field was misplayed. They broke open the game with a 5-run fifth – when they executed a series of squeeze bunts – and added six more in the seventh.
That was more than enough for Shepherd, who walked none and struck out seven.
“She’s come on for us lately; Shep’s been throwing really well,” Cates said.
It was the fourth consecutive complete game for Shepherd, who in the past two weeks has seemed to settle into her role as the team’s ace. In her past four starts she has allowed seven earned runs (four of those were in one game) and struck out 24.
“I’ve got a good defense behind me. I rely on them a lot,” Shepherd said. “I’m not afraid to throw a pitch I know they can hit because my defense will back me up.”
That was certainly the case early on against the Rockets (8-17, 1-2).
Shepherd struck out three of the first five hitters she faced before her D – especially sophomore third baseman Danaria “Dee” Lewis – began backing her up. After Hannah Webb’s 2-out single in the bottom of the second, the next five Shelby County outs – and six of the next seven – were groundouts to Lewis.
“We didn’t hit the ball like we’re capable of,” Rockets Coach Kelly Cable said. “We let our nerves and the excitement of the game get to us, especially at the plate because we were just up there hacking at anything instead of waiting on that good pitch that we could drive.”
Lewis had the big hit of the fifth – a 2-run triple – but later in the inning was confined to the dugout by the umpire (although she wasn’t ejected) after she knocked over Shelby County catcher Brianna Waits in a collision at home plate.
The Titans scored six more runs in the seventh. In the bottom of the inning Shelby County scored its run.
Senior center fielder Ari Jones – who had two of the Rockets’ three hits and also had a couple of nice catches in the outfield – led off with an infield single, advanced to second when Webb was hit by a pitch and scored on a fielder’s choice.
It was the first run in three games for Shelby County, which was coming off a pair of shutout losses to ranked teams (9-0 to No. 7 Oldham County and 3-0 to No. 11 Bullitt East) that were closer than the final scores might indicate (the Colonels’ scored six in the seventh inning of the victory, and the Chargers tallied two in the seventh of their win).
For the Titans, Hynes and Cloyd scored three runs apiece, and senior Bailey Rankin and junior Lindsey Ketcham each had two hits and two runs scored. Hynes, Poehlein, Cloyd, Rankin, Lewis and sophomore Sam Veal all had two RBIs.
“It was all clicking tonight. Hopefully we can keep clicking,” Cates said.
The Titans play at Bullitt East at 6 tonight and at Walton-Verona on Thursday night.
Meanwhile the Rockets play at Jeffersontown at 6 tonight and at Anderson County at 6 Thursday night in a game that doesn’t count toward district tournament seedings.
COLLINS 14, SHELBY COUNTY 1
Collins 200 150 6 – 14 17 3
Shelby County 000 000 1 – 1 3 1
Lauren Shepherd and Janelle Hynes. Sydney Wright, Savannah Smeaton (5) and Brianna Waits. W – Shepherd. L – Wright. 2B – Sydney Cloyd (CHS), Janelle Hynes (CHS). 3B – Shelbi Poehlein (CHS), Danaria Lewis (CHS). Records – Collins 12-14, Shelby County 8-17.