The Milford softball team extended its recent domination to Northern Kentucky Friday at Dixie Heights with a 4-2 victory, the Eagles’ ninth in a row. They can make it two wins in 16 hours, on the same field, Saturday in the opener of a new cross-state tournament at Dixie.
Neither coach was satisfied after Friday’s contest, which came down to the final batter. They will have Saturday to get things right.
“That wasn’t our best version of ourselves out there today,” Colonels coach Roddy Stainforth said. “It might look like a close score, but we focus on how we play not the score board.”
In the middle of a brutal stretch in its schedule, Dixie Heights, ranked No. 8 in The Enquirer Northern Kentucky coaches’ poll, has lost four of five games, the lone win coming Tuesday against third-ranked Notre Dame Academy. The Colonels began April by winning five of six.
They had runners on first and second and the go-ahead run standing at the plate with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but Eagles reliever Hannah Huffer struck out the final Dixie batter to seal it. Milford, ranked seventh in The Enquirer Ohio area Division I poll, improved its record to 12-5. Dixie fell to 10-10.
“We absolutely aren’t satisfied with four runs,” Milford coach Christy Gregory said. “But we knew they were going to be scrappy. They put the ball in play and made us play all seven innings.”
Milford starting pitcher Val Thompson went 3-for-3 and improved to 2-1 with six innings of four-hit softball. Huffer relieved her with one out in the seventh and earned the save after loading the bases with a walk to the first batter she faced.
The stubborn Colonels received a quality start from loser Courtney Garrett. She gave up seven hits and struck out five batters. Teammate Kaitlyn Buechel went 2-for-2. Garrett emerged from a long postgame huddle feeling the need to boost her teammates’ confidence. “We didn’t play our best, but we know we can do it. So we need to build our confidence,” she said.
Dixie is playing tough teams, and playing them close. The Colonels lost 4-3 to top-ranked Conner on Wednesday. The Eagles are unbeaten at 8-0 and in first place in the Eastern Cincinnati Conference, where they are defending champions.
“Milford is a good team. We amped up the schedule this year to get us ready for the regional tournament,” Stainforth said. “We’re in the middle of a gauntlet.”
The Colonels’ win count is two short of the total from last season when they finished 12-11. They are holding steady with an average of 7.0 runs per game while allowing fewer runs. Last season, Dixie gave up 4.3 runs per game. The average is down to 3.5 this season.
Friday was the first of two days for Dixie against locally-ranked Ohio competition. The Colonels play Glen Este at 1 p.m. Saturday in the third game of the maiden Bluegrass Vs. Buckeye Classic at Dixie. Glen Este is ranked fifth locally in Ohio Division I.
All four tournament games feature a Kentucky team playing a team from Ohio. Boone County, ranked second in Northern Kentucky, faces Milford in the 9 a.m. opener. Conner plays Harrison at 11 a.m. Defending Ninth Region champion Highlands plays Mason in the 3 p.m. finale. Mason is ranked second in the local Ohio Division I poll.
Dixie plays red-hot Villa Madonna on the road Monday in a 34th District showdown that counts as a seeding game. The Colonels are defending district tournament champions. The Blue Lightning are riding an eight-game winning streak. The Colonels play at Boone County on Wednesday.
Milford 010 030 0 — 4 7 0
Dixie Heights 000 001 1 — 2 4 2
WP: Thompson (2-1) 5 K’s. LP: Garrett 5 K’s. Leaders: M-Thompson 3-3, Kirk 2B. DH-Buechel 2-2. Records: M 12-4, DH 10-10.