LEXINGTON – The Warren East softball team is one win away from playing for a state title for the second straight season after downing Ashland Blazer 8-1 on Friday at John Cropp Stadium.

Warren East kept the pressure on all day, with base runners in every inning – pulling away in the middle innings to advance to Saturday’s semifinals of the KHSAA Fast Pitch Softball State Tournament.

“Both teams really competed out here,” Warren East coach Philip McKinney said. “You could tell, other than it was a great facility, that the atmosphere was totally different than what we’ve been accustomed to going to Owensboro.

“I think both teams played a little tight and even the fans were tight. That is what it is supposed to feel like and look like and sound like.”

Playing for the first time in 13 days, Lady Raiders junior outfielder Lucy Patterson admitted there was a little bit of rust but added everyone wanted to push through and get a win for McKinney on his birthday.

“It was really hard to get back into the groove,” Patterson said. “Even though we’ve been hitting in practice, it’s still not the same as hitting other pitchers. It took everybody a while to get it together, but once we did everybody started to get hits.”

Warren East (35-2) was able to shake the nerves off a bit with a pair of unearned runs in the first, before the Kittens tried to make a charge in the third.

Lauren Spears led off the inning with a home run off Katie Gardner to trim the deficit in half and the next two batters reached to put runners at first and second. Gardner settled in, with a force out and a pair of strikeouts to escape without any other damage and preserve the 2-1 lead.

Warren East steadily pulled away from there. Hailey Hymer’s bloop RBI double in the fourth quickly pushed the margin back to two runs. The Lady Raiders broke it open with three in the fifth – including an RBI single by Kya Elkin – and added two more in the seventh – capped by an RBI single from Shelby Trent.

“I thought about after we went through about half of the lineup that I had a pretty good idea we were going to put the ball in play,” McKinney said. “Now we just needed to put the ball in play two or three times in a row, maybe lay down a bunt or so and move the runners. I was happy with our at-bats throughout the whole game.”

Warren East outhit the Kittens 10-4. Patterson had two runs scored to go with her three hits, while Elkin and Trent added two hits each.

“We really had to focus on the pitching and stay on the ball,” Trent said. “We helped each other in the dugout – talked to each other about where (the pitchers were) throwing, so that helped a lot when I got up to bat.”

Gardner earned the win, allowing one run and four hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in five innings of work.

“We knew Katie could mix it up a little bit and the word is out what she throws,” McKinney said. “She did a good job of battling with what the umpire was giving her and not giving in to her and stayed composed. That’s a senior. That’s Miss Softball.”

Emma Markham tossed two perfect innings, striking out four.

Warren East will now face Region 5 champion Central Hardin at 1:45 p.m. CDT Saturday.

WEHS 200 130 2 – 8 10 3

ABHS 001 000 0 – 1 4 2

WP: Gardner. LP: Akers.{&end}

– Follow prep sports reporter Micheal Compton on Twitter @mcompton428 or visit bgdailynews.com.

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