It’s fun to be a softball player in Bourbon County right now.
Bourbon County, a perennial contender in the 10th Region and 15-3 through 18 games, could reach May with its fewest losses since the 2011 season. The Colonels were 4-0 in the 40th District and 5-0 against 10th Region foes entering Thursday’s game at Montgomery County, a fellow region stalwart whom they defeated, 6-1, last week.
Bourbon County’s used to success — the Colonels have never won the 10th Region but are always in the mix — but just down the street, Paris’ softball team finds itself in unfamiliar territory. The Greyhounds are headed to the All “A” Classic state tournament in Owensboro this weekend after winning the 10th Region qualifier for the first time.
Paris picked up first-time-in-program-history victories over Nicholas County and Bishop Brossart in the 10th Region competition on Sunday. The 4-2 finals win over Brossart featured a dramatic four-run frame with back-to-back homers by Kailee Finch and Haley Hope in the bottom of the sixth inning. A liner straight to junior pitcher Amanda Morgan clinched things for the Greyhounds in the seventh.
Dwayne Rice, a Paris alumnus who played basketball, football and ran track, took over the “little-sister” program in 2011. The team took some punches to the chin early but has finished with winning records the last two seasons (the 2015 campaign even included a win over Bourbon County). After reaching the 10th Region All “A” finals twice under Rice, the Greyhounds finally “got over the threshold.”
“The first few years it was just lumps and bumps and bruises, but I kept telling the girls if they keep working hard, we would get to the point where one of these days we would become champions,” Rice said. “I didn’t know it was gonna be during my lifetime, but I always told the kids I wanted them to leave a legacy and leave something hanging in that gymnasium so that 20 years from now they can walk back in and be proud and show their girls what they accomplished here at Paris High School.”
Morgan’s been with Rice since the beginning. She’s played for him since she was in fifth grade and has pitched for Paris since she was a seventh-grader. Rice said all the tough outings she faced earlier in her career have paid off.
“It’s really helped her to grow and learn and overcome adversity and just be able to lead this team,” Rice said. “On any given night she can throw with the best kids in the state.”
The Greyhounds’ ace has at least one admirer from outside the program: Bourbon County Coach Tony Sosby says she might be the best pitcher in the 10th Region.
Sosby isn’t a bad person to have in one’s corner. He’s led Bourbon County’s softball program since its inception in 1996 and spearheaded the creation of one of the area’s strongest middle-school feeders a decade ago.
The program’s a big reason why Bourbon County might not look too different in 2019 from how it does now. Among its 10 starters (including the designated player), nine are sophomores or younger. Kaylyn Barnett, the Colonels’ main starter on the mound, is a freshman while eighth-grader Micah Hays makes up the other half of the battery.
“They come to us pretty much ready and prepared to play,” Sosby said.
Paris has felt the bruising side of having a program like Bourbon County in its backyard for a while now. Rice welcomes the competition that it and fellow 40th District forces Clark County and Montgomery County provide.
“When I came back to Paris, during spring break the kids would be home sitting on the couch,” Rice said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Guys, there’s no way we’ll be able to compete with programs like Bourbon and Clark and Montgomery if we take six or seven days off, so we’re gonna have to be doing things.’ Bourbon has always had a good softball program and our girls have always wanted to try to get to that level, and try to be able to compete with Bourbon and the bigger schools in our district. The past couple of years we’ve been doing that now.”
For Bourbon, the “next level” is finally reaching the state tournament. The Colonels have played in two of the last five 10th Region championship games but have failed to finish each time. Sosby likes what he’s seeing from his young bunch headed down the stretch, saying they’re probably a little bit ahead of where he thought they’d be at this point.
“If we can get out of the district, and we didn’t last year, if you go back and look at the history of the 10th Region, the 40th District usually wins the 10th,” Sosby said. “We’re fortunate enough that we’ve been the favorite a few times and got to the finals, but we’ve just never gotten over the hump. Maybe this year’ll be it.”