PINE BLUFF - The Harmony Grove Lady Cardinals have been on the positive end of history before, winning three straight state softball titles from 2002-04. Despite making state every year since, Harmony Grove as not brought home the title since.
But 2013 is a different scenario. With one of the strongest and most talented teams in school history, the Lady Cardinals have a chance to bring home the hardware once again after thumping the Rivercrest Lady Colts 10-1 on Monday in the semifinals in Pine Bluff.
“I could not be any more proud of this team,” Head Coach Sammi Massey said. “They have played so well all year long and played really well today.”
Harmony Grove was forced to postpone its quarterfinals battle with Mansfield to Saturday after the bottom fell out of the sky and drenched most of central Arkansas on Friday. After winning 4-0, the Lady Cardinals came in and continued to dominate its opponent, paving their way to their 30th win of the year.
Despite the score, the game could have been a lot worse. Playing as the visiting team for the first time in the tournament, Harmony Grove loaded the bases in each of the first two innings, but could not push a single run across the plate, grounding into a 1-2-3 double play in the first and stranding all three in the second.
Rivercrest was not as fortunate in the third as the Lady Cardinals plated two to break the nothing-nothing tie at that point. LJ Helmich led the inning off by reaching on an error bringing pitcher and power bat Kristen Dempsey to the dish. Staring at a 1-0 count, Dempsey roped a line shot to left field, and scored on a two-run home run to make it 2-0 Harmony Grove in the third.
Dempsey was also taking control on defense as well, shutting down the Lady Colts from the circle. Dempsey gave up just one run in six innings of work while striking out five, including fanning the side in the second inning. Rivercrest plated its lone run in the third on a two-out RBI single.
“[Dempsey] has pitched so well this [postseason],” Massey said. “I couldn’t be any more proud of her.”
After shutting things down from the circle, Dempsey continued to dominate at the plate, driving home two more in the fourth on a 2-RBI double scoring Helmich again and Holly Drombetta to give Harmony Grove the 4-1 lead. After going scoreless in the fourth, the Lady Cardinals broke the game open in the fifth, once again off the bat of Dempsey.
Now with two on and none out, Dempsey drove the ball to left once again for her second home run of the game and fifth, sixth and seventh RBI of the game to put Harmony Grove up 7-1. Molly White followed suit, reaching after being hit and later scored on an RBI groundout by Joee Richey.
Dempsey and the Lady Cardinals still were not through. Already with a big lead in the sixth, Harmony Grove added two more including an eighth RBI from Dempsey, driving home Laura Britt on a fielder’s choice ground out. White drove Dempsey home a batter later to end the game’s scoring, giving the Lady Cardinals the 10-1 rout and a finals berth.
Helmich gave up a hit and struck out two in her one inning of relief to end the game for Harmony Grove.
“I am just super proud of the girls right now,” Massey said. “They are a great team.”
Dempsey stole the show with a 3 for 5 showing, driving in eight and hitting two home runs. The star sophomore also scored three times in the win.
“She is just doing it,” Massey said. “She has stepped up and into that leadership role and I couldn’t be more proud of her. I just couldn’t.”
Harmony Grove finished the game with 10 runs on 11 hits.
The win moves the Lady Cardinals into the 3A State Finals against Lavaca, which beat Bald Knob in a 1-run thriller on Monday. The two are set to battle at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.