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State softball: North Laurel and its lucky chicken stun in semis; Henderson Co. up next

North Laurel’s used to being the underdog.

The Jaguars weren’t picked by many to come out of the 13th Region. Letcher County Central, their opponent in the first round of the Clark’s Pump-N-Shop State Softball Tournament, was one of only two teams in the field they’d played in the regular season. They lost convincingly at home to the 14th Region champs in March but avenged that defeat last week before a 5-4 victory over 16th Region champ Boyd County in the quarterfinals.

By the KHSAA’s RPI data, North Laurel — ranked 42nd — was among the “worst” teams in the field and the worst coming into the semifinals. So by the time No. 25 Assumption put its No. 2 pitcher in the circle to start their duel at UK’s John Cropp Stadium, North Laurel wasn’t surprised.

“They came out with not their ace pitcher, they were doubting us,” said Bella Sizemore, a junior. “They were ready for the game tomorrow.”

North Laurel made sure tomorrow didn’t come for the Rockets (30-12). The Jaguars quickly hung three runs in the first inning, then five more on Assumption ace Lauren Satterly over the next four innings en route to an authoritative 8-0 upset.

It was just the second time all year that Assumption, among the state leaders in runs scored, didn’t score. Emma Carl, an eighth grader, gave up six hits and three walks in a complete game for the Jaguars (30-9).

“She’s really, really good, and she just got better as the season progressed,” North Laurel coach Chris Edwards said. “… I don’t know that she’s old enough to know the circumstances that she’s in, y’know what I’m saying? She throws the ball where we ask her to throw it, and a big part of that is our defense.”

The girls behind Carl came up huge through the entirety, but especially in the third and fourth innings. The Jaguars turned double plays in each of the innings to halt momentum from the Rockets, who afterward mustered just one more serious threat. Two walks and a single loaded the bases for Assumption in the sixth inning, but a groundout ended the potential rally.

Carl struck out Rockets leadoff hitter Maleya Giddens (2-for-4) to seal the deal.

“One of the things I tell the girls before all the games is, ‘Make all the plays you should, and somebody will make a great play,’” Edwards said. “We had two double plays, we had a fantastic play at shortstop, and we did everything we needed to do.”

Carl was 3-for-4 and drove in three runs to help her own cause. Katie Sams, Saige McClure and Braylee Fawbush all had two hits. Fawbush is the only senior in North Laurel’s lineup.

“We’re a Cinderella moment,” said Sizemore, who had a hit and an RBI. “I said, ‘No one expects us to win, no one expects to be this far. Let’s just hit and see what happens.’”

North Laurel’s Bella Finley crosses home plate during the softball state semifinals against Assumption.
North Laurel’s Bella Finley crosses home plate during the softball state semifinals against Assumption.
North Laurel’s Bella Sizemore shows off ‘Chump,’ the Lady Jaguars’ lucky charm, after her team’s win against Assumption in the state softball semifinals.
North Laurel’s Bella Sizemore shows off ‘Chump,’ the Lady Jaguars’ lucky charm, after her team’s win against Assumption in the state softball semifinals.

‘Chump’ in the championship

North Laurel on Saturday night will play in the state finals for the fourth time but ends a lengthy appearance drought. It fell to Greenwood 6-5, in its most recent trip in 2008. The Jaguars will meet another team from western Kentucky, Henderson County, in this year’s championship.

In the Jaguars’ corner this time around is “Chump,” a screaming rubber chicken toy and seasoned good-luck bringer. He also helped carry North Laurel’s basketball team, of which several of its softball players are members, to the Girls’ Sweet 16 each of the last two seasons.

The transplant from across the border — the girls bought him about four years ago in Tennessee — sports a North Laurel jersey, a flower crown and a large, sequined bow tie, among several other adornments.

“He’s loud sometimes, and Chris Edwards sometimes is like, ‘Make him shut up,’ but he’s our little guy and gets us through it,” Sizemore said.

North Laurel is the only team from eastern Kentucky that’s played in a state softball final. It defeated Owensboro Catholic 2-1 for its only state championship in 2001.

With Chump at its side, says Sizemore, “hopefully (we’ll) bring that gold trophy back to Laurel County.”

No. 1 vs. No. 2

A year after making it for the first time, Henderson County returned to the championship round after claiming a 2-0 thriller over No. 1 South Warren.

The second-ranked Colonels (35-5) in the bottom of the sixth inning scored both runs on solo homers, each off a different pitcher. Mackenzie Burczyk, Henderson’s No. 8 hitter, connected for a long ball off South Warren starter Courtney Norwood. The Spartans (39-4) immediately thereafter put Layla Ogden in the circle. Ogden retired the next Colonel but then surrendered a home run to Alyse Rollings, the leader in Henderson’s order.

“My teammates were hyping me up way before I even went up to bat,” said Burczyk, who hits .333 but delivered her eighth homer of the year. “They were telling me, ‘You got this, you’re in this lineup for a reason. Show what you can do, prove who you are.’ Their confidence radiated to me.”

Henderson, which had one hit coming into the inning, finished the job in the top of the seventh. Anna Kemp went the distance for the Colonels, herself allowing just one hit to their western Kentucky rivals.

In addition to her home run, Rollings early in the game made an incredible catch in left field that set the tone early on defense.

“We just came out there with a lot of fight, we wanted that game bad,” said Kemp, who didn’t pitch against South Warren in their lone meeting this season (the Spartans won 9-2). “We just played so good all around.”

Henderson County fell in last year’s final to Ballard, 12-4.

Henderson County’s Mackenzie Burczyk celebrates a home run against South Warren in the state softball semifinals at John Cropp Stadium.
Henderson County’s Mackenzie Burczyk celebrates a home run against South Warren in the state softball semifinals at John Cropp Stadium.