Henderson County softball has unfinished business in return to KHSAA Final Four

HENDERSON, Ky. — Henderson County's softball team has made history.

Both games it played in the KHSAA state tournament last weekend in Lexington were intense and went down to the wire. Last year's state runner-up Lady Colonels were even close to being eliminated against McCracken County in the quarterfinals, down two runs in the top of the seventh.

Coach Shannon Troutman wanted to give his three seniors another chance to deliver with the bottom of the order due up. Alyse Rollings, Taylor Troutman and Hallie McCracken eventually all got on base and scored the final three runs to save their season.

Henderson County (34-5) hasn't played at its sharpest so far at state. But it lives for another day as it prepares for back-to-back Final Four appearances — a first for the program.

KHSAA softball: Henderson County looks for success with not one but two players heading to SEC

The Henderson County Lady Colonels gather at the mound as they play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.
The Henderson County Lady Colonels gather at the mound as they play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

"I think we did leave on a high note and we're all really amped up," McCracken said. "We really just need to stay out of our mental space. A lot of mistakes happened the past two games, and I think we really need to improve on that."

"We know (for) our first years, it's now time for them to reset and come back and not have those nerves again," Taylor added. "Some people don't even get three games at John Cropp, but we're lucky enough to get our third one. I think they're going to be able to calm their nerves and be more excited to play."

Henderson’s Taylor Troutman (16) hits the ball as the Henderson County Lady Colonels play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.
Henderson’s Taylor Troutman (16) hits the ball as the Henderson County Lady Colonels play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Hitting remains a strength for Henderson County as its 60 home runs are the second-most in the state. McCracken's career-high 17 dingers are tied for third in Kentucky while Taylor, a Mississippi State signee, is the program's all-time home runs leader with 47. Four other Lady Colonels are hitting over .420 this season.

Troutman also praised the middle of his lineup for the speed and skills they bring to the table.

"They're really fast, they can play small ball, they can steal bases," he said. "We broke the all-time stolen base record at the high school this year. That's something special. It brings a new dimension to my team that I didn't really have last year."

KHSAA softball: State tournament 2024 schedule and ranking of field from No. 16 to No. 1

Henderson County's pitching is still solid as it has depth and the ninth-lowest ERA in the state. The Lady Colonels' ace is junior and Missouri commit Anna Kemp, who has 22 wins, a 1.43 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 142 1/3 innings this season. Sophomore Mackenzie Burczyk, junior Ava Eblen and eighth-grader Lillian Bennett have also provided quality outings in the circle.

"Just knowing that if I don't have my best stuff, I have really good people behind me," Kemp said. "They're always supporting me and cheering me on. We always go with each other with our bullpens and talk and help each other out and enjoy our time out there pitching, which makes us better every day."

Henderson’s Anna Kemp (27) pitches as the Henderson County Lady Colonels play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.
Henderson’s Anna Kemp (27) pitches as the Henderson County Lady Colonels play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

South Warren and Henderson County will battle as No. 1 and No. 2 in Kentucky in the semifinals Friday at 5:30 p.m. CDT. The Lady Spartans (39-3) have one of the state's best players in junior McLaine Hudson, who leads the KHSAA in hits (93) and runs (81) and has 22 dingers on the season.

The Lady Colonels aren't just looking to avenge a regular-season loss to South Warren. They had their hearts broken by the Lady Spartans after they won on a walk-off in the 2022 postseason. The defeat fuels Henderson County to get a victory.

"They're a very good team hitting and defensively, but so are we," Rollings said. "And if we come with our 'A' game, I think that we will be good. They didn't face Anna the last time we played them in the season, so that's an advantage that we have right now. I'm looking forward to Friday. It's going to be a tough, good battle."

Henderson’s Alyse Rollings (31) heads home as the Henderson County Lady Colonels play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.
Henderson’s Alyse Rollings (31) heads home as the Henderson County Lady Colonels play the North Posey Lady Vikings in Henderson, Ky., Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

Henderson County has accomplished plenty in recent years, from three straight 30-win seasons to four consecutive trips to Lexington and playing in its first state championship last spring. The Lady Colonels would love nothing more than to play in back-to-back title games and complete their unfinished business by winning their first championship.

But they have to get past South Warren first.

"I truly believe that it's something we can do," Troutman said. "We're going to have our work cut out for us this next game, that's for sure. If the girls set their mind to it and they come dialed in the right way, we can do it."

KHSAA softball Final Four schedule

Games will be played at John Cropp Stadium in Lexington. All times CDT. Streaming available via NFHS Network.

Friday, 2:30 p.m.: Assumption (30-11) vs. North Laurel (29-9)

Friday, 5:30 p.m.: Henderson County (34-5) vs. South Warren (39-3)

Saturday, 6 p.m.: State championship

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: KHSAA softball: Henderson County prepares for another Final Four

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