Scott County softball coach Jeff Portwood didn’t say his Cardinals were every opponent’s Super Bowl, but the sentiment was close to that.
“I tell the girls all the time,” Portwood said, “it’s like running around here with a bull’s-eye on your back. You’ve gotta realize that you’re playing for what’s across your chest and the competition’s always going to be better the night they play us.”
Georgetown has been the epicenter of softball in the 11th Region for the past decade. The Cardinals, ranked No. 4 in the latest coaches’ poll, have won seven of the last 10 region tournaments (falling in the semifinals and finals the other three times) and in 2014 became the first school from the region to win a state title.
Portwood, in his third season as head coach, credited the middle-school feeder system as well as the experience most of his girls receive during summer ball for building a program seeking its fifth straight trip to the state tournament and ninth overall.
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“We’ve got great girls that love the game,” Portwood said. “… They don’t stop. They’ve very fortunate they’ve got great coaches at other levels building them continuously.”
Scott County played McCracken evenly for most of a 10-inning game but gave up three runs in an early-season showcase at Elizabethtown. Three days later the Cardinals rallied from behind to hand Woodford County a 7-6 loss on the Yellow Jackets’ home diamond.
Woodford County is expected to vie for the 11th Region title and was tabbed as the state’s second-best team coming into the year, right behind recently formed juggernaut McCracken County. The Yellow Jackets have since fallen to No. 7 in the poll after the loss to Scott County, the only game they’ve played this season. They’ll resume at Madison Central on April 7.
Woodford County was 16-0 against 11th Region competition last season — including a win over Scott County — before falling to the Cards in the 11th Region finals. Five of its players — Caitlin Ferguson, Bethany Todd, Caitlin Karo, Lindsay Anderson and Ariel Dailey — were selected among the region’s top eight. Ferguson, a University of Louisville signee, garnered the No. 1 spot.
Scott County plays McCracken County again in a round-robin tournament at home on April 16. Playing a stacked schedule “each and every year” is just part of the deal, Portwood said, and his girls realize that.
They’ve taken to it well this season; Scott County is 13-1 with five wins over top-25 teams. Seniors Jordan Ison and Taylor Ricketts were picked among the region’s top players. Pitchers CeCe Wittry and Kennedy Sullivan give the Cards a 1-2 punch that can go toe-to-toe with anybody.
“They’re very familiar with the pressure,” said Portwood, whose squad boasts just five seniors. “… They know what’s expected and what’s after them each and every night. We talk about it quite frequently, actually.”
Among Lexington teams, Lafayette was tabbed as the torch-bearer in the preseason but picked fifth in the region behind Woodford, Scott, Madison Central and Western Hills. The Generals have opened the season 4-1, the lone loss a 12-1 drubbing at Scott County.
“I’ve had some different teams in Lexington texting me and emailing me wanting to know, ‘What can we do to beat ’em?’ since we already played them,” Lafayette Coach Kevin Stephens said. “I said, ‘Don’t go.’” Stephens let out a hearty laugh.
“But being serious,” he said, “they’ve got such a good team and so does Woodford County, you’ve really got to work with your hitters and make sure they’re hitting the ball really good and make them make mistakes.”
In the last 10 seasons, Lafayette is the only Lexington school to have advanced to the state tournament. Stephens believes the lack of organized middle school programs in Fayette County hinders the city. Henry Clay Coach Lori Bayless, whose Blue Devils were also on the wrong side of a 12-run Scott County thumping, shares that opinion.
Bayless, a former standout at Clark County and Tennessee Tech who’s in her first season at Henry Clay, also believes the chasm between Lexington teams and the region contenders is mental as much as anything.
“The last month or two I’ve been trying to break down that mental block,” Bayless said. “In their heads, they’re already beat before they get on the field the majority of the time.”
With effort and time, tides can turn. When Bayless played at Clark County in the late 1990s, it was Scott County who was often on the receiving end of blowouts.
“What they’ve just done to you is what we used to do to them,’” she tells her players. “They just worked their way up, decided to build their program and work really, really hard and see where that’s got them. I tried to explain that to them so they can see what hard work actually does.”
Coaches’ top 25
(Record entering Wednesday in parentheses)
1. McCracken County (6-1)
2. Madisonville (7-1)
3. Male (8-1)
4. Scott County (13-1)
5. Anderson County (6-1)
6. Ballard (7-0)
7. Woodford County (0-1)
8. Bullitt East (7-0)
9. North Laurel (9-1)
10. East Jessamine (7-1)
11. Daviess County (8-5)
12. Owensboro Catholic (5-3)
13. Butler (8-3)
14. Mercy (6-4)
15. Ashland Blazer (6-1)
16. Union County (6-1)
17. South Warren (7-6)
18. Assumption (3-3)
19. Meade County (4-4)
20. Warren East (5-3)
21. Christian County (6-3)
22. Central Hardin (6-5)
23. East Carter (5-0)
24. Manual (6-3)
25. Lafayette (4-1)