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Boone County ends long wait for 9th Region softball championship with young team that plays together

Boone County softball players were all smiles after winning the team’s first 9th Region championship since 2002

By Matthew Dietz

NKyTribune sports reporter

When Boone County freshman Mollie Sharp lined a walk-off single down the third-base line to win the 9th Region softball championship game against Cooper on Tuesday, the Rebels celebrated their first region title since 2002.

“We’ve had some good teams over the last couple of years that haven’t gotten to this point and it’s kind of a little monkey off the back,” Boone County coach Andy Petridis said. “This team is a young group and they just played together. We had different kids stepping up at different times, it wasn’t just the seniors that did it.”

Boone County junior Kaitlyn Irwin has a 13-4 pitching record and .400 batting average. (Photo from team’s Facebook page)

The Rebels will take a 24-10 record and 16-game win streak into a semi-state playoff game against 10th Region champion Pendleton County at 8 p.m. Friday at the University of Kentucky.

In the first half of the season, Boone County didn’t look like a state title contender. The Rebels had a 8-10 record and struggled to score runs at times, getting shut out in three of the 10 losses.

According to Petridis, the turning point of the season came during a loss to Ryle on May 3. After multiple errors in the sixth inning erased the Rebels’ lead, they were able to bring five runs to the plate and take the lead right back.

Despite losing that game, Petridis and the players saw that moment as a breakthrough. It motivated them to continue playing with that same intensity and competitiveness through the rest of the season.

“The bats woke up. They started really playing together and some other things started lining up,” Petridis said. “Defensively, a couple of the switches that we had made, some of those kids started getting their feet wet. They started playing better defensively.”

After an 8-6 loss at home to Dixie Heights on May 5, the Rebels went on the road the next day and defeated Trimble County, 19-6. That kick started the winning streak that has carried them into the state playoffs.

“It just became a rallying cry,” Petridis said. “They just wanted to keep winning, and we just kept doing it.”

The Rebels’ roster includes two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and six players that are freshmen or younger. Two of the freshmen and one eighth-grader have played in more than 30 games.

Karys Black gets a high-five from coach Andy Petridis as she rounds the bases after hitting one of her 13 home runs this season. (Photo from team’s Facebook page)

“I think one of the best parts about having a mixed group is when you have some good upperclassmen leaders that are really based in team and really want to do well as a team it is easy for the other ones to follow in,” Petridis said.

Boone County’s two seniors are Morgan Daniels and Karys Black, a first-team selection on the local coaches association all-star team who received a scholarship to play softball at the University of West Alabama.

Going into the region final, Black had a .446 batting average and led the 9th Region in home runs with 13. As a pitcher, she had 123 strikeouts in 80 innings to go along with a 2.71 ERA. A midseason shoulder injury kept her from pitching for several weeks, but she was able to return to the circle in time for postseason action.

“There are a lot of kids out there that have talent and they don’t work as hard as they could,” Petridis said. “Karys is a hard worker. Karys is one of those kids that even in the voluntary workouts in the offseason, Karys never missed.”

Kaitlyn “K.B.” Irwin is a junior who leads the team in innings pitched due to Black’s absence. She also had a .463 batting average with only seven strike outs going into the region final.

Harper Kinman

“She’s been about as consistent a kid as I have ever coached,” Petridis said. “I told her last (Tuesday) night that she is one of the best kids I’ve ever coached.”

The team’s other .400 hitters are sophomores Kailey Richardson and Harper Kinman, who took on a key role in the defensive lineup.

“(Kinman) was an outfielder for us early on and she stepped up in a big way,” Petridis said. “I asked her to move to shortstop for us and she right away said she would take the challenge. And she had some hiccups early, but here by the end of the season, she was a very steady, solid shortstop.”

One of the games Boone County won during their current streak was against Pendleton County. As the Rebels prepare to face the 10th Region champions again in Friday night’s semi-state playoff game, Petridis believes there are two reasons his team could make a deep run in the state tournament.

“Our pitching and defense has been outstanding,” he said. “We haven’t been hitting runs-wise overall, and I know postseason hits typically go down with better pitching and everything, but our pitching and defense have been absolutely outstanding.”

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