Carroll County pitcher Andrew Searcy (above) receives the ball after warmups.  (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
Carroll County pitcher Andrew Searcy (above) receives the ball after warmups. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
NEW CASTLE, Ky. — Walton-Verona’s superior efficiency on both offense and defense allowed the Bearcats to finally do what they had been unable to do all season — beat Carroll County — and when it counted most.

The Bearcats stacked all of their hits together in one inning and limited the Panthers to just one hit all game — and then erased that runner on a double play — to beat Carroll County 2-0 in the quarterfinals of the Eighth Region softball tournament Monday at Henry County High School.

Walton-Verona pitcher Kendall Blau wasn’t overpowering — she struck out just three — but she wasn’t very hittable either, facing the minimum 27 batters in the seven-inning game. The seventh grader mowed down the Panthers on 68 pitches to win a pitchers’ duel with Carroll County sophomore Andrew Searcy, who struck out nine while facing just three more batters than the minimum herself while allowing two runs — none earned — on three hits and a walk while striking out nine in an 89-pitch outing.

The Walton-Verona win avenged a pair of losses to the Panthers this season — a 3-2 duel at Carrollton and a 3-0 decision at Walton when Searcy and Blau previously locked arms.

“Some of us came to play while others, maybe not so much,” Carroll head coach Chelsea Zink said of the loss. “Obviously, it was apparent Walton came to play so they were the ones that came out on top.

“We just didn’t make adjustments,” Zink noted. “We were pulling our heads, we were too far back in the box. We just didn’t make adjustments like we should of.”

Carroll County’s lone hit came in the bottom of the first inning when freshman leadoff hitter Bailey Mefford singled to left field. Knowing a run or two might loom large for two teams known for low-scoring duels, Carroll asked Allie Beach to bunt to move Mefford into scoring position but the junior popped the ball up in front of home plate with Mefford running on the play to make for an easy Walton-Verona double play.

Although Carroll struck out only three times the rest of the way, the Panthers never got another ball to drop for a hit. Walton-Verona’s defense turned every play to prevent the Panthers any more opportunities.

“We didn’t get that many on base which kind of hurt us. We didn’t have that confidence,” Zink said. “Obviously, if you get runners on base you’re going to have a higher chance to score. We just struggled in that area today.

“When we did hit the ball, we hit it right at them. That made it hard too,” the coach added. “It’s not any one person’s fault. I just think the luck was on their side I guess.”

Searcy retired the Bearcats in order in the first and second innings, but the bottom of Walton’s order got something going in the top of the third when Blau and Emma Strunk hit back-to-back singles to start the inning and Brooke Perry reached on an error to load the bases while trying to sacrifice bunt.

Searcy struck out Alyson Poore for the first out but instead of getting a lucky double play ball to get out of the jam like Walton-Verona got in the first, the Bearcats’ Emily Taylor flied out to center field to allow Blau to tag at third and come home with what proved to be the game-winning run. Walton then played add-on on the next at-bat when Faith Alford’s two-out bloop to right field dropped in to score Strunk with a second run.

And with that the scoring was over for the rest of the game.

“We struggled with that a lot this year — we’d have that one inning where they score their runs,” Zink said, noting its proved too much to overcome Monday.

To Searcy’s credit, she brushed aside the inning and went right back to work to strike out the side in the fourth while retiring the Bearcats in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings before allowing a lone baserunner on her only walk of the game in the seventh.

“Even after that inning she still kept her head on straight,” Zink said of her sophomore ace.

But so did the seventh grade Blau, even working through taking a sharply hit ball by Mallory Besselman off her pitching hand in the fifth inning to finish off what would have been a perfect game if not for Mefford leadoff single in the first.

Carroll County, winners of last week’s 31st District tournament, closes out the season at 14-10 while Walton-Verona, now 15-15 and the 32nd District runner-up, moves on to play Collins in tonight’s second semifinal.

Collins defeated South Oldham in Monday’s final quarterfinal 14-0. Oldham County, a 1-0 winner over Shelby County to start Monday’s four-game lineup, will play Owen County, a 5-1 winner over Simon Kenton, in tonight’s first semifinal.

The Panthers lose two player to graduation, starting center fielder Ciara Hamilton and reserve Olivia Harris.

Zink said while only one of the two sees extensive playing time both will be missed for their leadership.

“Olivia was huge for us just for her attitude and presence,” Zink said. “Both had great leadership skills and obviously we’re going to miss that.”

Zink said the team has no plans for summer ball or clinics but that several of the players will join different summer teams and keep playing through the offseason.

“Some of the girls will play on different summer teams but some of them won’t,” Zink said. “But we’re just going to keep getting better. We’ll be getting the middle schoolers … they’re going to come in with some experience.”