Kylie McKinney found herself in a familiar position Wednesday night at Central Hardin High School.
And the Elizabethtown senior pitcher again threw like an ace.
For the third consecutive year, McKinney was called upon to keep the Panthers’ softball season alive.
And for the third straight 17th District tournament semifinal matchup, North Hardin could not solve McKinney’s mastery on the mound.
McKinney had one of the best performances of her career, hurling six innings of one-hit ball, allowing one walk and striking out 14 batters as Elizabethtown blanked the Trojans, 10-0, in six innings.
“I’m always a little nervous in this game, but I also had a lot of confidence since I’ve been in this situation before,” said McKinney, whose brilliance on the mound punched Elizabethtown’s ticket to next week’s 5th Region tournament at Hart County High School.
Two years ago, McKinney pitched six quality innings in beating North Hardin, 12-2 in the tournament opener, and followed last year by combining with two relievers to shut out the Trojans, 9-0.
McKinney, who has been in the program for seven years, saved her best for her senior finale.
North Hardin had no answers for McKinney at the plate, going down swinging on 11 of the 14 strikeouts.
“We never got our bats going, which was disappointing, because we hit the ball better than we showed tonight,” said Trojan coach Jerry Fife. “When you don’t put the ball in play you don’t give yourself an opportunity to win.”
McKinney said a mixture of velocity and location were keys to her effort.
She had at least one strikeout in every inning, and struck out the side in one-two-three order in the second, third and fifth innings.
“I was able to put a lot of spin on my pitches,” said McKinney, who ran her record to 11-5. “I was touching the corners. I knew I had to stay away from the middle of the plate, because North can produce when you put the ball there.”
The Trojans never offered any type of offensive threat.
They had two runners reach base all game. The first came with a one-out walk to Sydnee Adkisson in the third inning. Molly Fulton had the Trojans’ only hit, a two-out single in the sixth. Those were the only two blemishes on McKinney’s scorecard.
“I can’t say enough about Kylie’s performance,” said Elizabethtown coach Jimmy Schmidt. “I had all the confidence in the world in giving her the ball. This was Kylie at her best. There was a lot of pressure, but she never let up.”
Schmidt also praised the overall team effort, saying it was the “first complete effort” the Panthers have put together in a while.
“The offense, the pitching, our defense were all lights out,” Schmidt said. “We got our small-ball game going. When we put runners on, we got them home.”
Elizabethtown scored off Adkisson, who went the distance for North Hardin, in five of the six innings, starting with a two-run first inning.
With one out, Emil Schmidt, who had three singles for the game, reached on an infield hit. Alyssa Philpott walked, before Avery Simpson ripped a two-run double.
The Panthers led 3-0 after two innings, when Naveah Anderson led off with a single and scored on a single by Taytum Spiers.
Elizabethtown all but put the game out of reach with three runs in third inning. Philpot led off with a double and scored on a single by McKinney, who was replaced with courtesy runner Demi Cleaver.
With two outs, Anderson walked and later scored behind Cleaver when Aislyn Burnett smashed a two-out double.
Schmidt praised Burnett’s at-bat, which went 11 pitches, including four foul balls on a 3-2 count.
“What a gutty effort at the plate by Aislyn,” Schmidt said. “She was disappointed in herself in her first at bat because she struck out. But she showed a lot of grit the next time around. That was a big, game-changing hit for us.”
Elizabethtown ended the game with three runs in the sixth, which was highlighted by singles from Emil Schmidt and Jessica Reynolds.
Elizabethtown upped its record to 20-9, while North Hardin finished the season at 4-14.