SUPER SOPHS/South Warren’s sophomore class ignites impressive return to KHSAA state tournament


Seventh-year South Warren High School fast-pitch softball coach Kelly Reynolds looks into her team’s dugout and sees a young team.

There’s two seniors on her roster, pitcher/outfielder Olivia Skaggs and utility player Alexis Martin.

Likewise, there’s two juniors sporting the Spartans’ dark, foreboding colors, starting third baseman Briley Pruitt and backup outfielder Jenna Lindsey. They’ve both made key contributions to South Warren’s consistent success.

Then, there’s the sophomore class. The backbone of the Commonwealth’s No. 1-ranked team.

“When you look at our sophomore class … they’re good kids, they’re good ballplayers, and a lot of them have been playing together for a long time,” Reynolds said.

That will continue on Friday morning, when South Warren (37-3) tangles with Elizabethtown High School (28-7) in first-round play of the KHSAA State Tournament at the University of Kentucky’s John Cropp Stadium. If the Spartans can win that game, they’ll move on to a likely quarterfinal showdown against Lexington Catholic (26-2), one of three teams — and just two in Kentucky — to defeat Reynolds’ South squad this season.

Don’t get the idea, however, that these girls can’t handle pressure. Most of them started playing varsity softball while in middle school. They play travel ball during the summer. They work out together. They often dine together, as they did after Wednesday’s practice at the South Warren indoor facility.

They’ve kind of taken the bull by the horns and gotten South Warren back to the promised land.

The Spartans are still looking for their first state championship in school history, but they made an impressive run just two years ago, reaching the semifinals before losing to the eventual state champion, Louisville’s Ballard High School. Ballard repeated as state champs last year, but the Bruins came up short this time, falling to Assumption in the semifinals of the KHSAA 7th Region Tournament at the University of Louisville.

South Warren, meanwhile, used last year’s setback in the 4th Region championship game as fuel for another run to Lexington. The Spartans experienced the state tournament atmosphere in 2022, when McLaine Hudson, Layla Ogden and Kinleigh Russell were still in middle school, but last year’s 2-1 loss to Greenwood in the 4th Region title tilt served as motivation for the squad over the last few months.

“Coming off a tough end to the season last year, we knew we wanted to bounce back strong,” Russell said. “We really wanted to get after it this year. As a sophomore class, as a whole, we really wanted to set a good example, for the rest of the team.

“This season has had its high and low points. But through it all, we tried to remain calm and rely on each other. Our hard work would get us through the tougher situations.”

Like last week’s 4th Region championship game against Barren County at the WKU Softball Complex.

The Spartans didn’t get on the scoreboard until the bottom of the fourth inning, and Barren County rallied in the top of the seventh, putting the tying run in scoring position before Layla Ogden induced a roller through the infield dirt toward Russell at second base. Russell squared up on the grounder, used a sidearm throw to flick it to first base, and the Spartans were going back to Lexington.

South Warren is a balanced squad, with an otherworldly .438 team batting average and 58 home runs. Sophomore shortstop McLaine Hudson leads the way with a team-high .640 batting average, but Russell is looming right behind her, hitting the ball at a .620 clip. Not coincidentally, they’re the first two batters in the South Warren lineup.

And they’re two of the seven South Warren sophomores making it happen this spring on Nashville Road.

“We have a great camaraderie on and off the field,” Hudson said. “Most of us have played together since we were 8 years old, or played against one another, since we were very young. I think it’s hard to find another sophomore class that competes with the talent we have.

“We hold each other accountable and make each other better every day!”

Ogden, one of the Spartans’ two aces in the circle, has compiled an 18-0 record with an ERA of 1.00. She’s struck out 128 batters in 91 1/3 innings pitched, and freshman Courtney Norwood’s numbers are equally impressive. Norwood, a 6-foot-1 FRESHMAN has gone 16-2 with a 1.43 ERA, while striking out 125 batters in 88 innings pitched.

South coach Kelly Reynolds often uses both pitchers in the same game, and sometimes Ogden and Norwood won’t learn who will get the start until the Spartans begin pre-game warmups.

“It just keeps us on our toes,” Ogden said with a smile.

Norwood and Ogden split time at first base, too, and it was Norwood who recorded the final putout against Barren County before spiking the ball and setting off the team’s celebration before an overflow WKU crowd.

The Spartans’ catcher, Hayden Holloway, stands about 6 feet herself, and she’s embraced the experience after transferring from another fast-pitch softball powerhouse at McCracken County. McCracken (30-7) is a familiar bunch at the state tournament, and the Lady Mustangs will face Lawrence County (30-4) in their first-round matchup on Friday night.

“I love being around this great group of girls,” Holloway said. “We all build each other up.”

Baseball and softball coaches emphasize being “strong up the middle,” defensively, and that’s something the South Warren squad has exemplified this season. Sophomore center fielder Hadley Borders, a transfer from Allen County-Scottsville, is batting .509 while patrolling the bulk of the outfield grass. Hudson and Russell, longtime teammates, are the Spartans’ double-play combination, and the rangy Holloway is very active behind the plate

Equally important, however, is that Russell can catch, too, and she has had to do so at certain points of the season.

Outfielder Kaylee Wilson and injured teammate Chloe Walker complete the South Warren sophomore class, the girls that put the rev in the Spartans’ engine.

Sophomore pitcher/first baseman Layla Ogden will tell you it’s been a memorable 2024 campaign. The Spartans are hoping to finish it off with four more victories. If they can win twice, this weekend, they’ll return to Lexington on June 14 for the state semifinals.

“It seems like it’s gone by so fast,” Ogden said. “We’ve soaked it all in. We know we’re going to be prepared.”