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Miss Softball candidate Turpin driven to return to Owensboro

By John Herndon

If you want to know what makes Courtney Turpin one of Kentucky's best softball players, don't look at her listing on the roster.

At first glance, the Anderson County pitcher does not conjure up images of Jennie Finch, who, at 6-foot-1, is about five inches taller than Turpin.

Look closer when Turpin takes the pitching circle. Check out the determination as she winds up to unleash one of those 60-plus mile per hour heaters. Take a look at the glare when someone gets a hit, as if she is taking it as a personal affront.

And when she picks up her bat, it becomes one of the most potent weapons in Kentucky. Just ask Woodford County, which had just torched Turpin for five runs in the top of the fifth inning of last Wednesday's Senior Night. The Yellow Jackets led 6-3 and had a struggling Turpin on the ropes.

Her teammates got Anderson within 6-5, just in time for Turpin to stride to the plate with two runners in scoring position.

Base hit. Two runs, lead back to the Lady Bearcats, who went on to win 9-6.

Whether it is at the plate or in the pitching circle, Turpin and her teammates are intent on returning to the state tournament two years after being one pitch from the final four. Anderson was finally eliminated in 11 innings by Ryle that year and it looked like the Lady Bearcats had the makings of a softball dynasty.

Instead, the Lady Bearcats are looking to atone for a first-round exit in last year's regional tournament, an implosion that still baffles those who saw Anderson achieve the program's first Top 10 ranking in the final weeks of last season, only to go home with a whimper.

Turpin and the rest of the Anderson seniors have vowed not to let it repeat.

“That is not going to happen again,” Turpin said recently. “We have worked too had for that to happen again.”

But it starts with pitching. The oldest truism of baseball is that good pitching will beat good hitting. It is the same with fast pitch softball, a first cousin. Without strong pitching, a team is not going to win a region or 20 games against a schedule that includes some of Kentucky's best.

With Courtney Turpin, Anderson has strong starting pitching. And she knows jut how important her job is.

“ I think that if you don't have a good pitcher then you aren't likely to win many ball games because the other team will hit the ball like crazy on you!” she says.

Turpin keeps the other team from hitting the ball like crazy with an arsenal of more than a half-dozen pitches, topped by a fastball that she says has topped out at 64 miles per hour. She also has a leisurely change-up that batters often flail at and can throw a curveball, slider, screwball, drop ball and riser. There are some other pitching concoctions as well.

She's not afraid to throw any pitch at any time.

To be sure, there are times when Turpin is not on. Such was the case against Woodford last Wednesday when Turpin was constantly behind in the count. She gave up a grand slam that could have been the difference. Yet somehow she battled through.

Such instances are rare, however, for Turpin.

Her stats are not quite as impressive in 2010 as in the past but that can be attributed to the pitching rubber being moved back three feet. It is roughly equivalent to moving a major league pitching mound to 65 feet. The increased reaction time is significant.

The explanation is valid, but it might not satisfy Turpin, whose drive is fueled not just by a desire to win but also an abject hatred of losing. Even during Monday's romp past Eminence in the district tournament opener, Turpin had the stare when she issued a walk, then gave up a hit in the second inning.

You had to pity the next batter, who became one of Turpin's seven strikeout victims.

Since Turpin burst on the scene by beating a good Danville team when she was a seventh-grader, there have been many that believe she could win the Miss Softball award. Before the season, Turpin was named one of the three best players in Kentucky, but while the others will likely be playing at a Division I school, Turpin has cast her lot with Campbellsville University.

While most NCAA softball scholarships are partial, Turpin will be receiving a package that amounts to a full ride. It was an opportunity she could not pass up.

“Some people think that hurts,” Turpin said of her choice's impact on the Miss Softball voting.

And make no mistake, she would love to win the award.

But she would take another trip to the state over the individual award. Turpin knows here is considerable talent surrounding her. It was a matter of meshing the old and the new.

“As the season goes by I feel Like my defense has grown stronger and I have a pretty tough field behind me,: Turpin said last week. “They may be young but they are great ball players and play great defense behind me. Now getting ready to go into districts I feel that we will be great and will play with anyone.”

When the regional tournament opens Monday at Carroll County, Anderson figures to be one of the favorites to advance to the state tourney in Owensboro. Henry County, defending champion Shelby County, Simon Kenton and Walton-Verona all figure to be in the hunt as well.

But only Anderson County has Courtney Turpin.