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Never mind that his team is ranked 13th in the preseason poll of the state's softball coaches.
And pay no attention to the fact that Anderson County is considered by some as the team to beat in the Eighth Region and boasts a Miss Softball candidate.
Anderson County coach Brian Glass sees that he will have to be penciling a new catcher into the lineup for the first time in over five years and has some other holes caused by graduation, injuries and players deciding not to play this season.
“We are young,” he says with a smile. “We are very young.”
The reason Glass can say that and still smile goes back to that Miss Softball candidate, Courtney Turpin, who just happens to be one of Kentucky's best pitchers. She can hit a ton too. He also has a big bat with first baseman Lauren Brown and has a speedy outfield.
And those young players?
They're good. Very good.
“I feel our young players are fundamentally sound,” Glass said last week. “Our hitting has been good. A lot of our players are very talented, and by mid-season, we should be playing good ball.”
Glass, who would put his team up against Jennie Finch if given the opportunity, has again loaded the schedule with top 20 teams with an eye on returning to Owensboro for the state tournament. Two years ago, the Lady Bearcats advanced deep into the tournament, finishing fifth in the state. The Lady Bearcats were an overwhelming favorite to return last year, but had a late-season meltdown that ended with a 6-2 loss to Simon Kenton in the Eighth Region tournament opener.
It was a disappointing loss to a season that had so much promise. The Lady Bearcats had been ranked as high as seventh in the state and were often mentioned as one of those teams that could be a darkhorse state championship contender. Instead it went down the tubes after the Lady Bearcats blew a big lead to Shelby County in the district final and did not show up for the regional opener.
It still smarts 10 months later.
“All of us seniors have already sat down and talked about what happened last year and we all feel very strongly about working hard to get back to where we need to be,” Turpin says. “Being a senior this year, I am doing everything in my power to get us back to the state tournament where we belong.”
Second baseman Brooke Collins adds, “This year, we seniors have met and decided that it will not happen again. There are many of us and we all care too much about this team to let that happen again, we don't want all our hard work to be blown off in the end.”
Two weeks before the post-season, Anderson rolled through the Boyle County Invitational, looking like a well-oiled machine primed for a state title run. The Lady Bearcats were doing everything right – hitting, pitching, fielding, running.
But in the week leading up to the post-season, there were signs that the Lady Bearcats' best games were behind them. An error here, base-running gaffe there, mental mistakes that championship teams don't make began to subtly creep in. It came to a head in the final two games, which Collins said, “put a hurt on us all.”
“About three-quarters of the way through the season last year, we had a change in the team,” Glass said. “We just didn't play as well. “
This year, Anderson intends to put a hurt on its opponents despite fielding a lineup that includes an infield that includes a freshman and an eighth-grader. But if the Lady Bearcat basketball team could do it with even a younger team -- “That was awesome,” Glass says – the softball team feels it can do the same.
Glass is cautious.
“We have a lot of young kids,” he says, putting an emphasis on each word. “But these young kids have played a lot of summer ball. They have been under a lot of pressure.”
One of the young players, freshman Kelsey New, has already had some big varsity moments. Two years ago, as a seventh-grader, New was inserted into the lineup after an injury sent starting second-baseman Emily Bucklew to the sidelines in the regional semifinal against Oldham County. In a thriller that eventually went 14 innings, New would have ended things much sooner had one of her teammates not made a base-running mistake on New's hit.
Last year, she delivered a bit hit that gave Anderson a large lead against Shelby County in the district final before an implosion.
“She is a good-looking freshman and can really help offensively,” Glass said. New will also back up Turpin on the mound.
At press time, though, it was not clear if New would be playing shortstop, where Kritty Morrow had been playing, or third base, which came open when the incumbent, Chelsea Bright, elected not to play this season.
Another freshman, Haley Burgin could be on the left side of the infield and an eighth-grader, Kaitlyn Riley, will be manning second base early in the season as Collins recovers from a bout with mono.
Sophomore Renay Peacock is the likely candidate to replace five-year starter Tiffany Davenport at catcher, but freshman Hannah Searcy showed her potential in the Henry Clay scrimmages. “The first pitch to her, she hit it over the center field fence for a home run,” Glass beamed.
But Anderson still has plenty of firepower. While Turpin is known more for her pitching, she is a threat to hit the ball over the fence every time she steps to the plate. First baseman Lauren Brown, who started on the state tournament team two years ago, swings a powerful bat. Catcher-DH Ashley Cotton can also put a charge into one.
“They are both really good gap hitters,” Glass said.
And they should get plenty of RBI opportunities with leadoff hitter Christina Harvey back. Harvey has moved from left to center field, replacing the graduated Mackenzie Stoner, but her forte is wreaking havoc on the basepaths.
“She went 2-for-4 in our scrimmage against Henry Clay,” Glass said. “She beat out two drag bunts. “She is an offensive weapon. When she gets on, we want to make sure she gets in scoring position.”
Don't worry. With Harvey's speed, a walk is as good as a double.
K.K. Fitzpatrick, a very strong defensive outfielder, takes over in left.
Right-fielder Karrah Bottoms has been the biggest surprise for the Lady Bearcats, according to Glass. Always solid defensively, Bottoms often was the one who did not swing the bat when Glass used a designated hitter.
As the season starts, she's hitting third in the order.
“She has really worked hard,” Glass said. “Her bat speed is so much better. She is just stronger and faster and I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by Karrah. If she hits the way she has been in the cage, we are going to do well.”
That is expected.
Whether or not it is enough to get back to the state is another question. Shelby County, last year's regional champ, returns most of its lineup, including stellar infielder Dee Dee Davis. Oldham County is expected to be solid and South Oldham is much improved. After that, however, the region appears to drop off a few notches.
“In the pre-season, you have to say Shelby County is the favorite,” Glass says. “But when we get to the post-season, I think we can be as good as anybody. We have a long way to go.”
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.