May 31, 2017, is seared into the minds of Scott County’s softball players.
That day, the Cards were handed their first loss in the 11th Region in two years. Woodford County, whom they handled easily in a neutral-site contest two months earlier, came out on top in a 1-0 decision for the region-tournament title. A home run made the difference, and ended a streak of five consecutive state tournament appearances by Scott County.
Is it motivated by that loss? You can bet your Derby winnings on it.
“We went in with high expectations last year and obviously they were a great team so in retrospect it was OK but mentally, we wanted it so bad,” said Princess Valencia, who’s signed with Morehead State University. “We’ve got a bunch of seniors that were on the team in 2016 when we won so we feel like we have to finish strong.”
Scott County through Sunday was 20-2 and had suffered only one in-state loss — 1-0 at No. 5 Ballard. It’s continued its mastery against 11th Region opponents, scoring an average of 12.6 runs against them this season. That average includes a 13-0 five-inning win at Woodford County, which lost star ace Bethany Todd (now at the University of Kentucky) and four other standout seniors to graduation.
Motivation is a powerful thing.
“That was so rough,” Hannah Davis, who’s headed to UK, said of last year’s loss. “It was like a reality check because that had never happened. So when they beat us we were like, ‘Umm, we’ve got to come back next year and kill them.’”
‘School, softball, everything.’
Scott County was the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest coaches’ poll before losing to Ballard. That result caused the Cardinals to lose several first-place votes in the newest poll, but they're still on top and again considered a favorite to win it all. Barring a big upset in the earlier rounds of the postseason, they’ll make it to Owensboro in June and have a relatively easy path to the championship round — the 11th Region winner would possibly have to play only two of the top 10 teams prior to the finals.
They’re one of only five programs that have won multiple state titles — in 2014 and 2016 — and the only 11th Region school that can claim any since the first fast-pitch championship was awarded in 1995.
Owensboro Catholic has the most titles at five, but Scott County could join Greenwood as the only other active program with three (Reidland, which consolidated into McCracken County, also won three titles). Making state isn’t a goal; it’s an expectation, especially for the Cards’ 10 seniors.
“This year it’s just different,” Kennedy Sullivan said. “Everybody’s leaving. We’re gonna have a young team next year so this is like our best shot for a while as of now. So we’re trying to take it while we can get it.”
Sullivan, a Western Kentucky signee, is Scott County’s ace. She was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2016 state tournament and was part of the 2014 title team along with Davis, Valencia and Grace Mullins, another senior.
Scott County hasn’t exactly adopted a “state title or bust” mentality — “I just wanted to be remembered for having fun,” Valencia said — but it would be the ultimate cherry for a group that’s played together for more than a decade in Georgetown.
“Four of us would be on all three (championship) pictures in the gym, which would be awesome,” Valencia said with a grin. “Every time I go into the gym I’m thinking about it, like, ‘Wow, I need one more of those before I leave.’ It’d just finish off senior year perfectly. School, softball, everything.”