SUN SETS ON SOUTH/Henderson County’s Anna Kemp fires 1-hitter, eliminating South Warren, 2-0, in KHSAA state semifinals


LEXINGTON — There were some tears, some hugs, plenty of reflection.

South Warren High School’s top-flight fastpitch softball squad made another run at a state championship, but with each passing inning, it became evident that scoring opportunities would be rare.

Henderson County junior pitcher Anna Kemp was on top of her game, hurling an impressive one-hitter to guide the Lady Colonels to a dramatic 2-0 victory over the Spartans on Friday night in the KHSAA state semifinals at the University of Kentucky’s John Cropp Stadium.

“Tonight was just not our night,” South Warren sophomore pitcher/first baseman Layla Ogden said when it was over.

The Spartans finish another splendid season with an impressive 39-4 record. The team was making its second appearance in the KHSAA state semifinals in three years.

Henderson County, meanwhile, improved to 35-5, and the Lady Colonels will tangle with North Laurel (30-9) in the championship game on Saturday night. North Laurel is looking for its first state championship since the 2001 season, while Henderson County, like South Warren, is still in pursuit of the first state title in school history.

Kelly Reynolds, South’s seventh-year head coach, met with her team in shallow right field for about 10 minutes after the game.

“I told them, ‘You’re fortunate to be one of the four teams left at this point,'” Reynolds said. “The thing is … It’s hard. It’s hard to get here, and it’s a lot of work. We start way back and build.

“We’ll take some time off and start again for next year.”

It was a lonely night for Reynolds in the third-base coaches’ box, as the Spartans never had a base runner reach third base. Sophomore second baseman Kinleigh Russell had South’s lone hit, a two-out double over the head of Henderson County left fielder Alyse Rollings in the top of the fourth inning.

South’s Hadley Borders chased Anna Kemp’s first pitch and was retired on a fly ball to right field, and the Spartans didn’t have another base runner until the top of the seventh inning.

“We just didn’t perform, offensively, tonight,” Reynolds said. “We hit a few good, hard shots, and they made some great plays. Their defense made some plays, that if it goes one way or another, it’s a different ballgame.”

The Spartans defeated Henderson County, 9-2, on May 4 in a tournament at Owensboro Catholic High School. Kemp didn’t pitch in that game, however, and she was on top of her game on Friday night, striking out seven batters while walking three.

South Warren starting pitcher Courtney Norwood turned in a gritty effort herself, retiring the first 10 batters she faced. Henderson County’s Taylor Troutman then lined a one-out double off the bottom of the fence in left-center field, but her base running mistake — she was hit by a battled ball between second and third base — helped South wiggle out of the inning unscathed.

Kemp used some off-speed pitches to keep the Spartans off balance, and Henderson’s Aubrey Risley made a diving catch in shallow left-center field on Borders’ sinking line drive to retire the side in the sixth.

Everything changed in the bottom of the inning.

Henderson County’s MacKenzie Burczyk belted Norwood’s first pitch for a home run to center field, prompting Kelly Reynolds to move Ogden over from first base to the circle. Ogden retired one batter before the Lady Colonels’ Alyse Rollings hit a towering home run to left field, making it 2-0 with one swing of the bat.

“They’re a good hitting team. We knew that, going in,” Reynolds said.

Combined with Anna Kemp’s pitching prowess, Henderson County gained the upper hand, and never lost it.

“We kind of went back and forth,” Reynolds said of her team’s pitching strategy. “Do we switch now? Do we wait? Courtney was very effective with the bottom half of (Henderson’s) lineup, until that first home run, and then obviously we made the switch.

“They were feeling it tonight.”

South Warren knocked off Lexington Catholic, 1-0, last week in quarterfinal play. The Spartans set a school record for victories (39) in a season, in that game, and looked like the team to beat in the final weekend of the season.

South Warren was the visiting team for all three of its state tournament games, based on a pre-tournament draw, and that finally became a factor as Kemp and Norwood starting matching one another, zero for zero, on the scoreboard. The Spartans will lose just two seniors from this team, pitcher/outfielder Olivia Skaggs and utility player Alexis Martin.

“It was definitely a tough loss, not the way we wanted things to go,” South’s Kelly Reynolds said via text message on Saturday morning. “I’m proud of our girls. I’ve said all year, the future is bright for South Warren softball.”