What shaped up to be a rebuilding year — as in a long year — has turned out quite nicely for the Lexington Catholic softball team.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Lady Knights are 13-12, a marked improvement over last year's 11-21.
"It's a major rebuilding year," first-year coach Larry McCullough said Monday. "We lost three starters from last year. We lost a pitcher, catcher and shortstop. That is the meat of your team right there, up the middle.
"Pretty much nobody gave us a chance of winning three games, because we've got a lot of eighth-graders on this team."
Catholic features a Division I recruit in center fielder Sophie Robic, who has signed with Alabama-Birmingham.
"I've been here for five years and we've had four different coaching staffs," Robic said. "So it's hard coming in every year with a new coach and having a positive mindset, but I tried to keep an open mind on it. We haven't had super-great years in the past, so I didn't have high expectations. But I think we've definitely exceeded my expectations for this year."
Chemistry has helped.
"We get along really well. We're like sisters and we all joke around with each other all the time," said Andrea George, a junior who has filled the bill at catcher. "We love spending extra time with each other before games and even outside of softball."
Robic, George and Georgie Ledford, serve as team captains.
"Sophie's the girl that everybody looks up to," McCullough said. "But this team is led by committee. I mean, they depend on each other. ... I've coached plenty of teams at every level, and I've never had a team that gets along like this."
Another key has been the emergence of junior pitcher Maddie Brown. She missed her sophomore season due to hip surgery, but has the decisions in all 13 Catholic wins.
"I didn't expect it at all," Brown said. "I guess (I'm) just trying harder, and my team helps me a lot in the field."
"These kids have worked so hard and they have done so well," McCullough said. "They bought into the system. They're doing things now that they never thought they could do. It doesn't matter where the ball is hit, all nine people on the field have a place to go to back a play up. They know where to go now."
The Knights also have come around at the plate.
"Throughout the middle of the season, our hitting got a lot better," Robic said. "So I think that carried us through a lot of tough games and we stayed together pretty well as a team."
"Nobody, nobody would have ever thought this team would have won over three games," McCullough said. "Nobody would have thought that. But they pulled it together and they're working hard."
The Knights are hoping to play their best ball in next week's district tournament.
"I hope we're able to win as many games as we can," George said. "I really do believe in my team, and I think we can win as many as we put our minds to."
"This district here, there's no full-cut favorite," McCullough said. "There's four teams that can win this district. Can we win it? We can win it, but we can't make mistakes. We've got to play mistake-free ball.
"And if we win the district, that's great. If we don't, these kids have made my year just being able to have the privilege of coaching them."