Youth got the better of freshman Delaney Enlow as she swung unconsciously at rise ball after rise ball in her first two at-bats during the 11th Region softball finals last week.
She and head coach Les Anderson discussed her approach before her final trip to the plate. That talk paid off; the at-bat ended in a home run, resulting in the only run of a 1-0 Woodford County win over Scott County to put the Yellow Jackets in the state tournament for the first time since 2006.
Woodford was great on the mound, great in the field and “good enough on offense” to hand the top-ranked Cardinals their only in-state loss in 2017, Anderson said.
“In that situation it just took one barrel,” he said.
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Anderson, a longtime middle school and travel-ball coach who took over the reins at Woodford coming into this school year, was most proud that in the biggest moment of her team’s season, Enlow embraced patience instead of relying on what felt more comfortable for her.
“As a hitter or pitcher or defender or coach, you can’t just keep doing the same thing and think that something different is going to happen,” Anderson said. “She made an adjustment and didn’t just keep whaling away.”
Enlow would not have been in a position to deliver the heroic hit if not for a three-hit shutout pitched by Woodford workhorse Bethany Todd, a University of Kentucky signee whose 0.72 ERA is second in the state behind only Montana Fouts of East Carter.
In addition to Todd, Woodford boasts Division I signees Ariel Dailey (Louisiana Tech) and Caitlin Karo (Tennessee-Martin). Senior Kyla Simpson will play at the University of Pikeville. Marly Maristany rounds out a group of seniors who’ve won a ton of softball games and are five victories from making school history.
“Winning would be a bonus,” said Maristany, who’s headed to Eastern Kentucky but whose playing career will end after this weekend. “Memories are what I’m looking forward to.”
Scott County left bad memories in Woodford’s mind after ending the Jackets’ season each of the past five years. Todd, who was around for four of those losses, said this time around, the Yellow Jackets didn’t allow nervous energy to consume them. Those nerves were abundant as recently as April, when Woodford dropped a 5-3 decision at Scott County. That was about a month after losing an error-ridden 7-0 game to the Cards in Elizabethtown.
Woodford “just played horrible” in the 7-0 loss, Anderson said, but in the second loss, there were signs of what could come. The Jackets took a brief lead in the middle of that game, in which Scott County scored two runs via errors.
“From that moment, that was our focus: stop giving teams runs and stop beating ourselves,” Anderson said. “And start giving ourselves every opportunity to win that one-run game.”
Now a little more than a month removed from that loss, Woodford County has slayed the Scott County dragon and enters the state tournament as the event’s most highly ranked team. The Yellow Jackets were No. 2 in the final coaches’ poll of the season, right ahead of perennial contender McCracken County and No. 4 Madisonville, which it could face in the quarterfinals if it defeats Mercy in the first round.
Woodford County beat the Jaguars 7-0 in April and is 4-0 overall against teams in the bracket. The Jackets are eager to make a run.
“We’ve got really mature kids that have played in a lot of high-level games for a few years,” Anderson said. “The moment’s not gonna overwhelm them. … I know they wish we played tonight. We are absolutely ready to go.”
A winning culture was built at Woodford County over the past decade and doesn’t appear without end; Anderson said there are gifted players all the way down to the fifth grade who should eventually end up in Woodford’s program.
This year’s group may add a new benchmark of success for those youngsters to meet.
“It’s just that little bitty snowball that starts at the top of the mountain and by the time you get down to the bottom, it’s crushing ya,” Anderson said.
What: Double-elimination tournament to decide Kentucky’s high school softball state champion
Where: Jack C. Fisher Park, Owensboro
When: June 8-10
Tickets: $10 single-day passes; $20 all-session passes (Available online at bit.ly/2s4TyOD)
Thursday’s first round:
5 p.m. CST games: North Laurel (27-6) vs. Leslie County (19-10); McCracken County (29-8) vs. Male (25-4); Central Hardin (31-8) vs. South Warren (32-3); Collins (28-9-1) vs. East Carter (33-3)
7 p.m. CST games: Woodford County (32-5) vs. Mercy (27-10); Pikeville (30-6) vs. Madisonville (33-5); Owensboro Catholic (23-11) vs. Harrison County (24-11); Boyle County (27-13) vs. Notre Dame (22-11-1)
North Laurel (27-6) vs. Leslie County (19-10); McCracken County (29-8) vs. Male (25-4); Central Hardin (31-8) vs. South Warren (32-3); Collins (28-9-1) vs. East Carter (33-3)
Woodford County (32-5) vs. Mercy (27-10); Pikeville (30-6) vs. Madisonville (33-5); Owensboro Catholic (23-11) vs. Harrison County (24-11); Boyle County (27-13) vs. Notre Dame (22-11-1)
(All times CST)
Thursday: All first-round games in top-half of bracket begin at 5 p.m.; all first-round games in bottom half of bracket begin at 7 p.m.
Friday: Winner’s bracket quarterfinals, 9 a.m.; loser’s bracket first round, 11 a.m.; loser’s bracket second round, 1 p.m.; winner’s bracket semifinals, 3 p.m.; loser’s bracket third round, 5 p.m.; loser’s bracket fourth round, 7 p.m.
Saturday: Winner’s bracket finals, 9 a.m.; loser’s bracket fifth round, 9 a.m.; loser’s bracket finals, 11 a.m.; championship finals, 1 p.m. (if necessary, a second championship finals game will be played at 3 p.m.)