How long has Bourbon County softball coach Tony Sosby waited to coach in a state tournament? His niece, Megan, was a member of the program when it was in its infancy in the late 1990s.
Now Megan's daughter, Makenzie Kincade, is a freshman at Bourbon County, which last week won the 10th Region Tournament for the first time in the program's 23-year history. The Colonels will debut against 8th Region champion Oldham County at the Owensboro Health/KHSAA State Softball Tournament in Owensboro later this week.
It took roughly a generation, but the Colonels are finally having their day in the sun.
"The wait is finally over," Sosby said with a laugh.
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Sosby has coached the softball team since its inception in 1996. Over the last decade he felt at the beginning of each season that Bourbon County was in position to contend for a region title, but ultimately the cards didn't fall the Colonels' way.
"Of course that doesn’t happen and you think, 'Well, maybe it won't ever happen,'" Sosby said. "It's just a lot of happiness, not just for myself but for the kids, the school and the community, that we finally have somebody that's representing Paris and Bourbon County at the state tournament."
The latter was certain once the 10th Region finals were set. Bourbon County defeated in-county rival Paris, 8-3, in last week's championship game, avenging a loss to the Greyhounds in the 40th District finals. Sosby believes their district to be the toughest in the region, and its case is strong: since the last major realignment of schools occurred in 2006, the 40th District fielded at least one finalist in 12 of the last 13 region tournaments (last year's championship between Campbell County and Harrison County being the exception).
What wasn't certain was Bourbon County's pitching situation to start the year. Kaylyn Barnett, who as a freshman won 25 games and hit 14 home runs, had recurring arm pain and wasn't available at the beginning of the season. Katie Fister, also a sophomore, stepped up in the circle when she was called upon and leads the Colonels in wins this season.
"She was a good pitcher but now she’s got a lot of confidence in herself and has done a great job," Sosby said.
A freshman, Alyssa Nichols, also started games for the Colonels throughout the year and has helped give them a solid 1-2-3 stable.
"At the start of the year, I’ll be honest, I didn’t know if we’d even pitch her much on varsity but with the arm injury to Kaylyn I didn’t want to wear Katie out early so we pitched Alyssa in some early games against some tough competition," Sosby said. " ... It's funny how injuries sometimes can help you be a better team by the time it’s all over with, and as far as a pitching staff goes, that’s exactly what happened to us."
All three will return next season, as will all but one player from this year's roster. She's a big one, though: Hannah McCord, a senior, is the best third baseman Sosby has coached in his 23 years, he said.
"Her nickname is 'Ninja.' A silent assassin," Sosby said. "She makes so many plays defensively, and doesn't do it with a flair. She just silently does things."
Replacing McCord will be difficult but Sosby likes the outlook for Bourbon County (28-10) over the next several seasons. While gaining experience for potential future runs to state will be valuable, he thinks their youth could be advantageous this year.
"Sometimes being young, they don't know what pressure is," Sosby said. "They’re just out there having fun and saying, 'Oh, hey, this is how it always is.' So it could work in our favor."
Regardless of how the week goes, or what they might or might not achieve in the coming years, this group won't be forgotten.
"I'm happy for the girls because they’ll always be part of school history," Sosby said. "They’re the first team ever to go to a state softball tournament."
State softball tournament
When: Thursday through Saturday
Where: Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro
Format: Double elimination
2017 champion: Madisonville (not in 2018 field)
Bourbon County's opener: 8 p.m. EDT Thursday vs. Oldham County (36-4)