SPARTANS FIND THEIR SPARK/South’s top-flight softball team edges Greenwood, 6-3, to claim fourth consecutive 14th District title


South Warren High School’s softball team knows a thing or two about grit, perseverance and striking when the iron is hot.

And the Spartans were able to strike in the bottom of the third inning in their KHSAA 14th District championship tilt against a familiar rival, Greenwood High School.

Last year, during Memorial Day weekend, South Warren needed 10 innings to erase a four-run deficit, in the bottom of the sixth, on its way to a memorable 8-5 victory over the Lady Gators at the WKU softball complex. An overflow crowd, with hundreds watching from above, inside the WKU parking garage, turned out for the title tilt.

It was a comeback for the ages, and fairly similar to the Spartans’ 4-3 victory over Greenwood just a month or so earlier, at South Warren. And the 4-3 triumph over Barren County, in the 4th Region tourney. Or the 10-9 squeaker over Henderson County at the state tournament in Lexington.

Simply put, Kelly Reynolds’ South Warren squad knows how to win.

And that may very well have been the difference in the Spartans’ 6-3 victory over Greenwood on Wednesday evening at Warren Central High School.

It was the Spartans’ fourth consecutive KHSAA 14th District championship.

The Lady Gators grabbed a 3-1 lead, in the top of the third inning, in part due to Savannah White’s solo home run, a shot to left field that brought the first-base side of a packed house to its feet.

South Warren didn’t panic. Not even close.

The Spartans capitalized on a couple breaks in the third inning, moving in front 4-3 on Hope Wright’s infield single that scored senior first baseman Katie Walker from third.

South Warren put up a 4-spot, an added an insurance run in the fourth, on Layla Ogden’s double to left-center field. Ogden would be thrown out, at the plate, on Walker’s single to right field, with Greenwood’s catcher Macie Murray making the tag to keep the Lady Gators within striking distance.

Courtney Norwood, the Spartans’ pitcher, and an eighth grader at South Warren Middle School, had other ideas.

Norwood battled out of a sixth-inning jam, fanning Greenwood’s Molly Spidel, a seventh grader at Drakes Creek Middle School, to end the threat.

Youth is often served in high school softball, and it’s clearly one of the secrets to the success at both South Warren and Greenwood. Player development, at that age, extends high school careers to five and even six years.

Seemingly, a lifetime in prep sports.

“Our girls did a good job of battling, and passing the bat,” South Warren coach Kelly Reynolds said. “Courtney played a big role in our success last year. She did a good job of not getting rattled tonight.

“(Greenwood’s) Abigail Byrd is a very good pitcher, but we ended up in double digits in hits. We did a good job of putting the ball in play, making them make the play defensively.”

South Warren also knows how to roll with the momentum, and that’s what the Spartans did in improving to 29-4 overall. Both squads will learn of their first-round opponent in KHSAA 4th Region play on Saturday, and Greenwood (16-13) certainly has the Spartans’ respect.

The Lady Gators had a critical error in the third, and there were a couple calls that brought Greenwood’s first-year coach, Rodney Bush, out of the dugout to question the decision.

No matter.

“We just try to stay locked in, in our game, and not listen to the noise,” South Warren first baseman Katie Walker said.

South’s Courtney Norwood struck out four consecutive Greenwood batters, after the Spartans grabbed a 5-3 lead. Norwood allowed just four hits, two after the top of the third. Her catcher, South freshman Kinleigh Russell, was duly impressed.

“I think Courtney showed a lot confidence, a lot of presence, in the circle,” Russell said.

Norwood used a repertoire of five pitches — a fastball, straight change, a rise ball, a curveball and a screwball — to remain unbeaten in nine decisions.

Here’s the deal, however.

South coach Kelly Reynolds, and her Greenwood counterpart, Rodney Bush, kept their aces in the dugout. Layla Ogden was the Spartans’ designated player, and the Lady Gators’ Kayden Murray, charted pitches with a collective eye on next week’s KHSAA 4th Region tourney, which will determine the area representative at the state tournament next month at the University of Kentucky’s John Cropp Stadium.

In most circles, that’s called gamesmanship.

“We gave ’em some extra outs, in that third inning,” Bush said. “This tournament is important, but the big one is next week at Western … The big picture, that’s where we’re looking.”

The big picture, indeed.

Barren County’s sporting a 28-2 record, and the Trojanettes claimed the KHSAA 15th District championship with a gritty 3-1 victory over Allen County-Scottsville on Tuesday night. Logan County (18-9 overall) won the KHSAA 13th District tourney with a 4-1 victory over crosstown rival Russellville High School. Clinton County (26-10) and Russellville (20-14) have qualified for the 4th Region Tournament, too.

Kayden Murray, a Greenwood senior who will play next year at Lindsey Wilson College, has worked 95 innings this season. She’s amassed 161 strikeouts, while walking just 18 batters. She’s sporting an earned-run average of 1.84, and a 9-6 record. The Lady Gators had significant losses from last year’s 32-8 squad, including former coach Taylor Procter, who returned to South Warren as an assistant coach last summer.

Layla Ogden has some pretty strong numbers herself.

The South Warren freshman right-hander has compiled an 11-2 record, in 16 games in the circle. She’s allowed just 45 hits, in 66 1/3 innings, while recording 86 strikeouts and only 12 walks. South’s Kelly Reynolds has split the innings pitched fairly evenly between her three pitchers — Ogden, Courtney Norwood and Kendall Willingham.

“Courtney (Norwood) played a big role with our team last year,” South Warren coach Kelly Reynolds said. “She got stronger, as the game went on, (Wednesday night). We had some errors, early, but made the plays late in the game.”

And get this.

The 14-year-old Norwood doesn’t turn 15 until next month.

Greenwood coach Rodney Bush told the Daily News’ Micheal Compton his team is embracing the challenge ahead, too.

“We’ve seen all their pitchers now,” Bush said. “All three of them. They haven’t seen our No. 1 yet (Kayden Murray). She’s going to have to be mentally focused, mentally sharp and lead us, but I like our chances.”


Stay tuned.