HIGH SCHOOL SOFTBALL

Bobcats' bats send Bluffton past Summerville 13-2 to 4-A state championship series

ksalter@islandpacket.comMay 16, 2014 

The tension of the Lower State softball final dissipated long before the sixth inning, but that didn't stop Bluffton from coming up with a Hollywood ending.

The setup was picture perfect, with the team's slugger, Kim Kerby, at the dish and the clinching run on second. With two strikes, Kerby rocketed a two-run home run high over the left-center field fence, capping off a 13-2 run-rule win over Region 8-AAAA rival Summerville to advance to the state championship series.

Even with the big lead, Kerby's shot served as a walk-off, clinching moment that left even the batter herself somewhat stunned.

"Honestly it wasn't a solid hit," Kerby said afterward. "I thought she caught it at the fence."

On the contrary, it sailed well clear, carrying with it the Bobcats' growing championship hopes.

For weeks, coach Bill Ball has said his team can see the finish line and taste the potential glory. Bluffton's bludgeoning of the Green Wave ensures that the Bobcats are indeed on the precipice of school history.

"Words can almost not express how I feel right now about this group," Ball said. "You're not looking at a middle-of-the-metropolitan-area group of wide-traveling, travel-ball players. Now they're beating the best teams in the state of South Carolina."

Beating them, and doing so in overwhelming fashion. After struggling on offense through much of the first phase of the playoffs, Bluffton has run-ruled each of its last two opponents. At this stage, where the competition is ostensibly tougher, Bobcats bats are turning nail-biters into laughers before anyone has a chance to get nervous. On Friday, they did so with 15 hits and three big innings, scoring three runs in the second, four in the fourth, and five in the sixth.

"This is our ball, right here," Kerby said. "This is how we hit. Most of the time we just come up here, swing the bats and we're a hitting team and we have the pitcher to back us up."

Even Ball, who said previously that the offense would be the team's biggest strength at this stage, was impressed with just how strong his squad has become.

"My kids just came out and played some incredible ball tonight," Ball said. "I mean, how about that offense? You've got to be kidding me. I don't think I've ever seen a high school team play better on offense than they did tonight."

This was the fourth meeting between Bluffton and Summerville in 2014, with the Green Wave snagging two of the three previous matchups. Those three contests were all much tighter affairs, far cries from Friday's rout.

As they did Monday, the Bobcats roared out of the gate, going up 4-0 after two innings. Summerville looked to be in prime position to cut into that lead when they loaded the bases in the top of the third. But it was pitcher Courtney Smith who, once again, worked her way out of a jam and turned in a pair of what she felt were game-saving strikeouts.

"I knew that no matter what was going to happen, we were able to get out of it," Smith said. "I thought that was the big momentum swing for us."

After four more Bluffton runs in the fourth, Smith allowed a 2-run home run by Summerville's Sarah Windham to make it 8-2. It was the only damage the Green Wave would inflict. This was Bluffton's game all the way through, with Kerby's emphatic swing and trot around the bases putting an exclamation point on an impressive romp through the Lower State bracket.

"I'll be honest with you. There are these moments when you definitely get feelings as a coach," Ball said. "I absolutely knew at that moment Kim was going to hit the ball. I didn't know it was going to go over the wall, but I knew she was going to hit something hard."

With one defining swing, the Bobcats placed themselves in the school record books, advancing further than any other team in the successful program's existence has.

Now they have a state championship series to look forward to, beginning Monday at Upper State champion Byrnes. Kerby and her hard-hitting teammates will be ready.

"It's going to be crazy," Kerby said. "We worked for it, so it's even better."

Bluffton 13, Summerville 2, 6 innings

SUM 000 020 -- 2 5 4

BLF 130 405 -- 3 15 0

W -- Courtney Smith: 2 ER, 5 H, 7 K

L -- Summer Jenkins: 7 ER, 15 H, 3K

Top Hitter: BLF -- Kim Kerby: 2-5, HR, BB, 2 Rs, 3 RBIs

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