An 8th grade hurler led the Ladycats through their post-season run
For many teams, it is experience and age that serves as the leaders of a championship team making a run in postseason.
The Pendleton Ladycats have bucked that trend with four middle schoolers placing among their top ten players--none more telling than the presence on the mound, starting pitcher Kayley Bruener.
The 8th grader has dominated in the post season.
Leading the Ladycats to their first district championship in 21 years, she pitched eight innings against Nicholas County, allowing two earned runs out of the Lady Jackets five runs. She struck out five. Pendleton short-gamed Harrison County in the district championship with the 12-1 victory, dominating them both at the plate and on the mound. Bruener pitched a one-hitter, allowing no earned runs while striking out eight of the 15 outs recorded. She did not issue a walk in either game.
Opening regional play, she had a complete game versus Scott High, allowing them a single run on five hits while striking out nine while walking none. It was more of the same in the region semi-finals against George Rogers Clark. Over eight innings, she gave up three runs while striking out seven and walking zero.
That ran her postseason streak of innings without a walk to 28 innings without issuing a free pass on base to a batter. She did issue a walk to a Bourbon County batter in the 10th Region Championship game. Against the defending regional champions, she threw a complete game victory with three strikeouts.
Facing the 9th Region Champions, Dixie Heights who had scored 17 runs in their championship game performance, Bruener was masterful. She shut out the high-scoring team with a solid defense behind her. She struck out seven in seven innings with two early walks and scattered five hits.
For the six post-season games leading to the state tournament at John Cropp Field, she threw 42 innings with 32 strikeouts, and 10 earned runs. She issued only one walk.
“Kayley is one of those players that you look forward to them coming to your program. As a middle schooler, she has delivered on everything,” said Head Coach Mary Pettit. “She was the missing puzzle piece, and everything fits and flows nicely.”
“She acts like an 18-year-old. No pressure gets to her, and she keeps loose on the mound,” Coach Pettit added.
While she was dominating on the mound, her teammates were playing stellar defense behind her. Misty Clower in left field and Olivia Verst in centerfield both ran down long drives over their heads. A big extra-base hit became an out on the scoreboard. Each of the infielders, Kylie Richardson at third, Sam Verst at shortstop, Raegan Carlisle at second and Sydney Manor at first, have ranged from steady to outstanding.
It’s a defense that gives confidence to the lone figure on the mound.
“It shows that they always have my back. I know that even if someone gets a hit off me, they will always be there to support me,” Bruener said about her teammates.
She started out playing with the Dirt Divas and the Pendleton County recreation league. That first year, the Diva coaches ran the recreation league, and several of the Ladycats started their career at that point.
“It’s a team sport, and you get to bond with all the girls, and they sort of become your sisters. Having them there all of the time is great,” said Bruener about what it was about the sport that drew her to it.
For the season, Bruener has carried the load of pitching duties, throwing in 34 of the 41 games. She carries a 21-12 record with one save. Over the 197+ innings she has pitched, she is averaging right at one strikeout per inning with 192 K’s. Opponents have scored 151 runs on 227 hits, but only 98 were earned for a 3.48 ERA.
Control has been a key as she has only allowed 50 bases on balls over those 197.1 innings.
While dominating on the mound, she is no slouch at the plate. Bruener is fourth on the team in hitting with a .405 batting average. She finished just short of joining one of four players that have collected 50 hits in the season. She finished with 49 hits, a feat that no Ladycat had done before this season. She leads the team in doubles (14) and is third on team in runs batted in (34). She was perfect with 16 stolen bases on 16 attempts while only striking out four times in 133 plate appearances.
While the season came to an end for her school team, softball business is just picking up for Bruener and her Ladycat teammate, Maddie Musk, as they both are members of Southern Force. They will travel to Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and throughout Kentucky, playing in tournaments. They actually played in Bowling Green, Ky, the day after the season came to an end.
The youthful pitcher ran into a buzzsaw in Central Harden in the 12-0 loss. While they scored 12 times, only five of the runs were earned. She had four strikeouts and four walks in the 5.2 innings.
“You just need to keep your head high and push through every little moment,” said Bruener about what she learned from the state tournament experience.
She also takes pitching lessons from Laura Rothrock. Her parents drive to Indianapolis for individual lessons every other Saturday.
“She has a proven track record of developing successful pitchers and knows how to bring out the best potential of the athletes she trains,” explained her mother, Maria, who was a standout athlete in her own right at Campbell County.
She says that Bruener’s father, Adam, is the one that gets help with softball and makes sure she carries over what she learns from the lessons to the field.
“Rothrock has a systematic approach of teaching proper mechanics....that revolves around pitching safely to prevent injuries,” Maria said
According to Bruener, they focus on her technique and the three pitches she throws, fastball, change up, and screwball.
While the final out was recorded on the 2019 Ladycats magical season, Bruener realizes that the youth on this team is just getting started.
“We have a young group of girls and much more to look forward to as high school ball keeps coming through the years,” said the righthander about what the future holds for Ladycat Fast Pitch.
One thing they can remember about the 2019 season is getting to play on the University of Kentucky field.
“It was scary-but-exciting. It was a dream come true,” she said.
Now, it is time to put in the work during the summer and make more dreams come true in 2020. This time, it will be a freshmen hurler leading from the mound.