GOING, GOING, GONE …/South Warren unloads three home runs in 11-2 rout of E-Town; Spartans face Lexington Catholic in KHSAA state quarterfinals


LEXINGTON — South Warren High School’s top-flight softball program opened KHSAA State Tournament play with a resounding 11-2 victory over Elizabethtown on Friday morning, and hours later, Lexington Catholic took care of business in similar fashion, setting the stage for some major fireworks in quarterfinal play Saturday evening at the University of Kentucky.

“We’ve been tested all year,” South Warren catcher Hayden Holloway said.

South Warren earned its 38th victory against three defeats, and the Spartans will face Lexington Catholic (26-2) in the quarterfinals on Saturday evening. Lexington Catholic rolled past Montgomery County, 15-1, in its state tournament opener, and the Lady Knights will face South Warren at 5:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday.

South Warren unloaded three home runs in its impressive victory over Elizabethtown, which finishes the season at 28-8. Sophomore pitcher Layla Ogden worked the first four innings for the Spartans, allowing two earned runs while striking out eight batters. Courtney Norwood, South’s freshman right-hander, finished the task at hand, scattering three hits in as many innings while also recording eight strikeouts.

“Our plan all along was to use two pitchers,” South Warren coach Kelly Reynolds said. “We wanted to give Layla the start. We started off hitting, which made kind of a statement. I think any time you can get on top of a team, and they have to fight from behind all the time, it just makes it harder.

“I thought we did really good at the plate today.”

McLaine Hudson, South’s star sophomore shortstop, went 3-for-5 with two-extra base hits, including a two-run home run to right-center field in the top of the third inning. Hudson broke a KHSAA single-season record by moving her total to 92 hits, breaking the previous record by Madisonville-North Hopkins’ Kaylee Tow in 2015.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Hudson said. “It was a goal of mine. Sure.”

South’s pitchers, Layla Ogden and Courtney Norwood, also homered against E-Town’s Taytum Spiers. Ogden lined a two-run home run to right-center field in the third inning, extending the Spartans’ lead to 4-0. Two batters later, Norwood followed suit with a towering blast that fell inside the left-field foul pole.

Ogden earned the victory while working the first four innings, allowing two runs on Taytum Spiers’ double to right-center field that trimmed South’s lead to 5-2. Ogden struck out the next two batters she faced, however, and then Spiers returned to the circle for the Lady Panthers.

And the Spartans returned to their long-ball mode, with a brisk wind blowing out to center field.

South Warren’s Kaylee Wilson drew a one-out walk, in the top of the fourth, before McLaine Hudson delivered her team-leading 22nd home run of the season. That pushed the Spartans’ lead back to five runs, and Ogden went back to work in the bottom of the fourth, recording two strikeouts before retiring E-Town’s Claire Miller on a tapper back to the circle.

Then, in the fifth, South Warren coach Kelly Reynolds made the move everyone in Spartans gear — in the dugout, in the stands, back in Bowling Green — was already anticipating.

Reynolds brought Courtney Norwood, a 6-foot-1 freshman, over to the circle, swapping positions with Ogden, who moved over to first base. With a big lead, Norwood challenged the Lady Panthers’ batters, allowing one hit in each of the three innings she worked. On the plus side, though, she struck out eight batters, as the Spartans claimed their 38th victory of the season, matching the school record South Warren set in 2022.

“I was locked in, I was really just focusing on Hayden (Holloway) behind the plate the whole time,” Norwood said. “She really communicates well.”

Ogden remained unbeaten in 19 decisions, and it’s quite possible — perhaps even likely — that Reynolds will use both of her star pitchers in Saturday’s quarterfinal game against Lexington Christian (27-2). The Lady Knights, on the other hand, have used junior pitcher Abby Hammond for all 29 of their games this season, and all 166 2/3 innings they’ve played.

That’s right.

Lexington Christian’s options are limited.

But Hammond and the Lady Knights defeated South Warren, 1-0, in a tournament game on April 27 in Lexington. Hammond’s home run was the difference in the game, the Spartans’ second of the day. Norwood went the distance in the circle, allowing just two hits while striking out 12 batters.

In other words, the game went by quickly, which softball games tend to do when the competition is near its peak.

South’s seventh-year coach, Kelly Reynolds, understands that reality and makes it a point to address it with her players.

“We tell the girls, you don’t stop, until the umpire says, ‘Ballgame,'” Reynolds said. “We talk about three words … Dominate, compete, fight. Nothing comes easily in this tournament.

“It’s a dogfight.”

There was a little late drama when South’s McLaine Hudson stepped to the plate to lead off the top of the seventh inning.

Hudson, whose batting average has floated above the .600 mark for most of the season, had already hit a triple, a home run and a single for the Spartans. She lined a pitch from E-Town’s Taytum Spiers down the third-base line, but the Lady Panthers’ Savanna Castenada made a leaping catch to deny her of a likely double …

Which would have meant McLaine Hudson would have hit for the cycle for the first time in her amazing career.

“No sir, I’ve never hit for the cycle before,” Hudson said with a smile. “I knew about it …”

Hudson was an eighth grader when South Warren reached the state semifinals two years ago, before Ballard eliminated the Spartans 11-0. South won 31 games last year, but dropped a 2-1 decision to crosstown rival Greenwood in the KHSAA 4th Region championship game at the WKU Softball Complex.

Reynolds embraces the challenge but is careful to keep things in perspective.

“You’re always ‘humble in victories, and dignified in losses,'” she said. “We want our girls to realize, ‘It’s OK to be confident.’ You just don’t to be ‘cocky.’ You can be beat.”

The winner of Saturday evening’s quarterfinal will face either Henderson County (33-5 overall) or McCracken County (31-7) in semifinal play on Friday, June 14, at UK’s John Cropp Stadium. On May 13, South defeated both Henderson and McCracken on its home field, stopping McCracken 6-0 before slipping past the Lady Colonels, 2-1.

“We’ve put in the work in practice,” Hudson said. “We’re going to be prepared.”