By John Lachmann
Highlands has not lost a game since April 22, and on Thursday the Bluebirds proved their winning ways were not going to change just because they had never played in that state tournament previously.
Sophomore right-hander Bailey Spencer tossed a five hitter and allowed one unearned run as Highlands extended its winning streak to 19 games with a 4-1 victory in its opening-round game in Owensboro on Thursday.
Estill County opened the scoring in the top of the first when a runner reached on a three-base error by Spencer and scored on an RBI groundout by junior shortstop MacKenzie Angel.
But Highlands answered in the bottom of the frame. Sophomore shortstop Haley Coffey singled to right and sophomore catcher Shelby Graybill crushed a two-run homer to give the Bluebirds the lead.
The Bluebirds uncharacteristically committed another error in the second and third innings but were able to avoid further damage.
In the bottom of the fourth, seventh-grade second baseman Rachel Gabbard led off with a double to left and junior third baseman Whitney Quillen singled up the middle to score Gabbard, making it 3-1.
Highlands added another insurance run in the fifth, as Graybill led off with a walk, senior left fielder Kendall Turner singled and sophomore first baseman Brennah Dutcher grounded to short to short, extending the lead to three.
Estill County’s first two hitters in the sixth singled but Spencer pitched out of the jam. The Engineers also had a one-out base hit in the seventh but Spencer shut the door with back-to-back groundouts.
The Bluebirds will take on Apollo in a state quarterfinal at 9 a.m. on Friday.
ESTILL CO. 100-000-0—1 5 0
HIGHLANDS 200-110-X—4 7 3
WP: Spencer. LP: Gross (8 K’s). HITTING LEADERS: H—Quillen 2-4; Graybill HR, 2 RBI; Gabbard 2B. EC—Wiseman 2-2, 2B. RECORDS: Highlands 27-11, Estill County 26-14.