• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Lady Jackets’ set to reach new heights in 2017

The Woodford County High School softball team enters the season loaded with talent, and under first year head coach Les Anderson, is looking to make it to the state championship tournament at the end of the season. “We should have a really strong season this year, said Anderson. “We have five seniors; four of which are committed Division I softball players. So, we have a lot of strong, veteran leadership. We have an incredibly tough schedule; probably the top two or three toughest schedules in the state. And, I think that the schedule, plus the renewed energy we have right now and our veteran leadership is going to push us to reach high this year.” Of course, getting to the state championships means getting past Scott County, a team that has been the Lady Jackets’ nemesis the last five years. In those years, it has been the Cardinals, winner of two of the last three state titles, who have knocked the Lady Jackets out of the region tournament. In 2013, 2015 and 2016, Scott County defeated Woodford in the region championship game. The Cardinals won 4-1 in 2013; they won 3-0 in 2015; and last year they won 4-1. In addition, Scott County beat Woodford in the first round of the region tournament in 2014, and the Cardinals beat Woodford 11-2 in the second round of the region tournament in 2012. So, getting past Scott County will be a major hurdle for the team to overcome. “Our issue is, has been, and will always be, getting over the Scott County hurdle in region,” said Anderson. “And, it’s not like they’re a poor team. They won two out of the last three state titles, and they’re the best team in the state. So, we have to raise our game to their level, work as hard as we can possibly work, schedule as tough a schedule as we can, and see what happens.” Anderson will look to his five seniors – Ariel Dailey, Caitlin Karo, Kyla Simpson, Marly Maristany and Bethany Todd – to provide leadership for the team this season. “The five seniors all have displayed tremendous leadership,” said Anderson. “I’ve known all the kids since they were eight (years old). I’ve coached most of them for many years. I challenged them this fall to create a new atmosphere, a new energy, a new effort, a new dedication for the entire team, and they’ve stepped up to the challenge. They’ve really blossomed as leaders. They lead by example and that’s the easiest thing (for me as a coach) when your veteran players are your hardest workers. That’s the easiest sell on the team. … Their history has always been work. (They are all) exceptionally hard workers. … I hope that their work is rewarded with a dream season.” As to the competition this year, in the district Anderson believes Franklin County and Western Hills will be tough to beat. “They’re always tough,” said Anderson. “Brian Redmon at Western Hills is a really good coach (and) does a good job with them. Tracy Spickard (at Franklin County) is one of the best softball coaches in the state. Both of those teams are a little young, and so they’ll have to overcome some of the hurdles of youth. But, those coaches, I’ve known them for a long time. They’re really good coaches, and those teams are going to be very competitive.” In the region, Anderson said there are a few teams that will be good, but Scott County is the team to beat. “Tates Creek has shown a resurgence,” said Anderson. “Gary L. Preece has done a great job rejuvenating the Tates Creek program. They’ll most likely be the best team in the city this spring. “Madison Central is always tough. They’ve got good talent, they’re well coached. They’ve got a first-year head coach down there Chris Clark who I’ve known for awhile and does an excellent job. They have talent, and if we don’t watch out, they could surprise anyone in the region. “Then, Scott County is the obvious favorite in the region and the favorite to repeat as state champion. They have a load of talent, they’re well coached (by head coach Jeff A. Portwood). They’re tested and proven and it’s going to take an incredible effort from anybody else in our region to overcome them.” Anderson has a lot of strong, returning players to anchor his team this year, as well as a good group of up-and-coming freshmen. To start, the team has two of the top pitchers in the state in Todd and Karo. Todd is committed to play at the University of Kentucky, while Karo is committed to play at the University of Tennessee-Martin. “(We have) two senior, proven, tested, Division I committed pitchers,” said Anderson. “Both of those girls have really dedicated themselves this offseason to getting stronger, to improve their spins, their location and they’re set up to have an incredible year. “Bethany is literally one of the Top-10 pitchers in the country, not just in the state and not just in Woodford County. She is really good. Her performance this fall on her travel team was outstanding. Barring injury or anything idiotic, she and Caitlin are going to have phenomenal years. “Caitlin is ready to finish her senior year with a real flourish. She is throwing hard. She is hitting her spots. She’s a tough competitor.” In the bullpen, Anderson has sophomore Leea Cole and freshman Kelsey Coleman. “They both bring experience and toughness to the circle,” said Anderson. “I have full confidence in both of those girls to deliver quality pitches in an inning, and wouldn’t hesitate to use them in places to give CK and Bethany some rest.” Behind the plate, junior Paige Hampton returns and will play most of the games. “Paige Hampton is our starting catcher,” said Anderson. “She caught nearly every inning last year, and she just does an exceptional job. She hit nearly .500 and slugged .800, and is fundamentally really sound behind the plate. Her arm has gotten stronger, (and) her effort has been good so far this year. I look forward to Paige having a great year.” Backing her up will be Maristany and freshman Kasey Abel. “One of those two will get the second catcher innings (at tournaments),” said Anderson. “… So, we’re solid in the circle, and solid behind the plate.” At first base, Anderson has a number of options. Karo and Todd can play first when the other is pitching. Also, freshman Delaney Enlow is battling for the position. “All three of them have similar skills,” said Anderson. “Karo is a very experienced, highly-skilled first baseman with a lot of power and a lot of pop. Bethany has really improved her ability in the field, and has making a real push to get some time (at 1B). Where Bethany’s probably seen the most improvement in her game has been at the plate. She’s really raking. I mean, she’s cutting it hard right now. She’s so big and strong it’s going to be very difficult to not find a spot for her somewhere in the batting order. “And, Delaney is one of the strongest kids I’ve ever seen. I mean, the kid is just a beast and if she can perform in games like she does in practice, we’ll have three of the best power hitters in the state. They’re (all) battling for first base (and) it’s an intense battle. It’ll be interesting to see who comes out on the front end of it.” At second base, three players competnig for the position – Dailey, Maristany and junior Bailee Ramnes. “Ariel is committed to Louisiana Tech and is one of the top five hitters in the state,” said Anderson. “So, she’s going to find a place on the field somewhere most likely. The kid can play. “Marly is a senior who is … just a joy to coach. She has worked hard. She is a great teammate. She has everything that I value in a player, except she happens to be sitting behind some really good players. So, she’ll find some time, somewhere. It’ll be kind of up to her and the other two girls on who wins that spot and who gets settled in there. “Bailee just came (here)… Her first year with Woodford softball was last year. She moved in from Northern Kentucky. She has good range and she’s got the quickest release on the team. The ball gets in and out of her glove very quickly. Combine that with an above average arm, and she’s really pushing for some defensive time.” At shortstop, Anderson is looking to find a replacement for Cailtin Ferguson, who graduated after last season and is now playing at the University of Louisville. Coming into the season he was a little concerned, but it looks like he has found his player in junior Peyton Rose. “Peyton has committed to Moorhead as a middle infielder,” said Anderson. “She’s extremely athletic. Very gifted defensive player with a ton of speed and she’ll be very difficult for the other two (players competing for the position to) move out of that position. The other two players are Cole and eighth-grader Tatum Wimberly. At third base, Anderson has had to call an audible as the player he had looked at to play third – sophomore Emily Hestand – suffered a “reasonably serious knee injury while we were hitting. So, that’s set her behind,” said Anderson. Anderson is hopeful Hestand will be back around the first week of April. “Emily had good lateral movement, a really good glove, strong arm and she could ‘mash.’ I mean, she could really hit. She’s a DI caliber player as well. So, losing her for the first part of the season is going to be a bit of a blow for us. “ So, to get the season started, he has three players competing for the spot – Abel, Maristany and junior Saige Sutterlin. Until Hestand returns, Anderson will also have a lot of options, including rotating Abel to second and bringing Marley to third and giving her a shot over there. Anderson also had a number of options in the outfield, something Woodford hasn’t always had in its past. “Outfield has really come along the last couple years, and has developed into a strength for this team,” he said. “We’ve moved Coleman to the outfield for a couple of reasons. Kelsey has the best outfield arm on the team right now. She absolutely has a cannon. She naturally tracks the ball well. … I couldn’t be more pleased with her and how hard she’s worked and how she’s just, basically, demanded a spot. “Simpson is currently injured. She injured her knee in practice as well. Hopefully, she’ll get back here in the next one to two weeks. Kyla is a very experienced, very dedicated, hard-nosed player that I just completely trust. “(Freshman) Abby Moffett is another one of our outfielders. Abby is fast (and) the most gifted athlete on the team. She is just really good. “Dailey is going to get some time in the outfield. It’s really going to depend on how the injuries shape, because Ariel can play a number of different positions. She’s a gifted player, hard worker; … and she’s just really good. “Cole is the fastest kid on the team. Lots of experience. Has a lot of ability. She hits from the left and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. She has opportunities to start in both the outfield and the infield. And, it’s really up to her what level she plays at. She has the athleticism and the ability to go far, but it’s really up to her to how far she goes.” Other possible players who will see time in the outfield are freshman Kayleigh Poe, junior Chay Hayes and sophomore Lexi Braswell. Assisting Anderson in his first season will be Rick Abel and Fred Powers. Abel enters his second season with the Lady Jackets. Prior to that he was the head baseball coach at Woodford County Middle School for several years. Powers enters his first year with the softball program. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach with the WCHS baseball team. Coming up: Woodford hosts Henry Clay on Monday, March 13, at 6 p.m. Then on Tuesday, March 14, they host Mercer County at 6 p.m., followed by a game against Dunbar on Thursday, March 16, at 6 p.m.

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