TUNNEL VISION/South Warren softball takes focus, pitching and 39-3 overall record to KHSAA state semifinals


South Warren High School’s softball team has emerged as one of the top-flight programs in the Mid-South, let alone the Commonwealth, but there’s one little detail missing from the Spartans’ impressive resume’.

A KHSAA state championship.

South Warren has been building for this weekend for a long time, even after a detour last year, when crosstown rival Greenwood stunned the Spartans, 2-1, in the KHSAA 4th Region championship game. South Warren has conquered one obstacle after another over the last three months, including a splendid performance last week in the state tournament in Lexington.

The Spartans slipped past Lexington Catholic, 1-0, in a memorable quarterfinal game last Saturday at UK’s John Cropp Stadium, a chess match of sorts that featured just six hits — three singles by each team. South Warren used Hadley Borders’ line-drive single down the left-field line, scoring leadoff batter McLaine Hudson, for the game’s lone run in the top of the fourth inning.

South Warren sophomore right-hander Layla Ogden took over from there, and Ogden combined with teammate Courtney Norwood to fire a three-hitter, sending the Spartans to the state semifinals for the second time in three years.

The final steps await.

South Warren (39-3) will square off with Henderson County (34-5) in the second semifinal game on Friday night, but it’s uncertain whether Ogden or Norwood will get the start in the circle. Seventh-year South coach Kelly Reynolds likes to keep her options open heading into a game, and as Norwood says, “it just keeps us on our toes.”

(Besides, when Norwood pitches, Ogden will be playing first base, and vice-versa.)

Louisville’s Assumption Academy (30-11) will tangle with North Laurel High School (29-9) in the first semifinal, scheduled for a 3 p.m. EDT start. On Saturday night, the semifinal winners will meet under the lights, with a 7 p.m. start for the championship.

“We tell the girls, ‘The hay’s in the barn,’ ” Reynolds said. “It’s time to show what you’ve got, and see what happens.”

It’s a coaching proverb, but the Spartans seem to be listening.

“I feel like we’re confident, and we’re ready to go,” South sophomore catcher Hayden Holloway said. “We’ve never been in a better place.”

South Warren sports an impressive .427 team batting average, and the Spartans have four players — shortstop McLaine Hudson, second baseman Kinleigh Russell, center fielder Hadley Borders and pitcher/first baseman Layla Ogden — with 20 or more extra-base hits.

(Not coincidentally, they happen to be the first four batters in the South Warren lineup in most games.)

Hudson is leading the way with off-the-chart offensive numbers, including a team-high .633 batting average, 22 home runs, 67 RBI and 36 stolen bases. But low-scoring games are commonplace in postseason play, and Henderson County pitcher Anna Kemp has compiled an impressive 22-1 record, with 177 strikeouts in 100 innings pitched.

Kemp wasn’t in the circle when the Spartans drubbed Henderson County, 9-2, on May 4 in a tournament at Owensboro Catholic High School. Mackenzie Burczyk pitched the first three innings of that game, with Lady Colonels teammate Lillian Bennett finishing the game.

South’s Courtney Norwood, a 6-foot freshman right-hander, was the winning pitcher in that game. Hudson, Ogden and sophomore outfielder Kaylee Wilson all had two hits against the Lady Colonels, who claimed hard-fought victories in the first two rounds of the state tournament.

Henderson County’s Taylor Troutman delivered a walk-off home run in the seventh inning, sending her team past Anderson County, 5-4, before the Lady Colonels edged tradition-rich McCracken County, taking an 8-6 victory in quarterfinal play. Troutman leads Henderson County with a .525 batting average with 12 home runs, while teammate Hallie McCracken is hitting .511 with team highs in home runs (17) and RBI (60).

Henderson County is tough throughout the lineup, with a .411 team batting average. But the Spartans believe their victory over the Lady Colonels could give them a mental edge in such a high-stakes environment.

“I’m glad that we’ve seen them, and some of their pitchers,” South’s Layla Ogden said. “We know what it takes … we’ve worked so hard for this moment.”

Ogden is unbeaten in 20 decisions and has recorded 143 strikeouts in 100 1/3 innings pitched. Norwood checks in with a 16-2 record and 135 strikeouts in 93 innings pitched. The Spartans’ team ERA is an impressive 1.74.

South Warren coach Kelly Reynolds arranged for a team send-off at the stadium Thursday afternoon, and they’ll eat a team meal at an Elizabethtown restaurant on their way to Lexington. The Spartans are scheduled to take batting practice at lunchtime Friday, taking their cuts at Lexington’s Lafayette High School, before taking a short break and heading to the stadium.

“You do have to deal with the ‘wait time.’ But playing in the late game, it might be a little cooler,” Reynolds said. “If we win (Friday night), we’re in the championship game for the first time in South Warren history.”

Reynolds has compiled an outstanding 193-31 record since succeeding Chris Riggs for the 2018 season.

Reynolds has been using both Courtney Norwood and Layla Ogden in the same games during postseason play, and their pitching styles seem to complement one another. Hayden Holloway, the 6-foot-1 sophomore catcher, is a transfer from McCracken County and gives the Spartans a rangy defender behind the plate.

“It just takes both of us,” Ogden said.

“We have a good bond, as a team. We’re all friends,” Norwood added. “It’ll be like a dogfight every time out now.”