Scott County is in the Rawlings/KHSAA Fast Pitch Softball State Tournament for the second year in a row. But there is one major difference with this year's team.
This year, they hold the rope.
"Hold the rope" is Scott County's team motto. According to Coach Scott Walters, the rope is all about trust.
If you are hanging off a cliff, Walters said, you want the people you trust at the other end of the rope. The Cardinals' motto comes from a poem by former LSU softball coach Yvette Girouard. The poem states: "When you look at every member on your team and say to yourself that they all would hold the rope, you are destined to win a lot of games."
Winning is what Scott County has done. The Cardinals take a 33-4 record into Thursday's opening game against Male.
When asked what the team motto means, senior first baseman Elaina Johnson said, "I always have my team's back and they always have mine."
"We need to help each other out," senior Jordyn Franchino said. "We need to never get down on ourselves and, if we do, to pick each other up."
The players demonstrated that trust in the 11th Region championship game against Woodford County last week.
Junior Marlee Tevis has been the team's No. 1 pitcher all season. She finished the regular season with a 20-2 record and a 0.45 ERA. But in the 4-1 win in the regional championship game she was constantly facing trouble. Nine runners reached base in the first four innings, 13 for the game.
Tevis was able to escape those jams by trusting her defense and keeping the ball in play. A key example was the fifth inning. Woodford County had a runner on second with no outs. The next batter hit a grounder to Tevis, who checked the runner before throwing the ball to Johnson. The runner took off on the throw to first but Johnson was able to gun her down at third to complete the double play.
Tevis also helps herself at the plate. She finished the regular season second on the team in runs (31) and RBI (31). In the regional championship, she hit two doubles and scored a run.
Walters said the team doesn't just hold the rope in big games. The motto also extends to practices, where the five seniors have worked with the underclassmen throughout the season.
"They have taken the younger team under their wings all year long," Walters said.
Half of the team's players are sophomores or younger. Four players are still in middle school.
"The seniors worked with them so we had multiple coaches," Walters said.
Walters referred to senior catcher Kelsey Crowe, hitting .327, as an anchor for the team.
Crowe said the team had three goals this season: win the district title, the regional title and the state title. To achieve the third one, Crowe said, "We just have to stay together."
According to the players, the motto has brought the team closer.
"We have a closer bond than we did last year, and more confidence," Franchino said. "All of us expect to win."
As for what lies in store for the fourth-ranked Cardinals this week, Walters said expectations are high because of their ranking. But he admits they will be challenged in their opening game of the double-elimination tournament. Male beat Scott County twice in the regular season — 1-0 on May 8 at Scott County and 4-1 on May 11 at Boyle County.
Johnson knows what she and her teammates are capable of if they work together and remember to trust each other.
Johnson said, "As long as we do hold the rope, we will win 100 percent. There's no doubt in my mind."
At Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro
(Double elimination; all times EDT)
Thursday's first-round matchups
■ Notre Dame vs. Montgomery Co.
■ Greenwood vs. South Laurel
■ Lone Oak vs. Central Hardin
■ Scott Co. vs. Male
■ Estill Co. vs. Boyle Co.
■ Oldham Co. vs. Mercy
■ Livingston Central vs. Owensboro Catholic
■ Magoffin Co. vs. Ashland Blazer
Leigh Dannhauser: (859) 231-3447