By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
There are eight schools in the Kentucky that have won 500 fast pitch softball games. Only one has 600 wins. With a 10-0 victory over Middlesboro Thursday, North Laurel became the first to the milestone.
“It’s a great thing these girls have accomplished over the years. Not just one team, but this is a combination of every team from North Laurel,” North Laurel coach Becky Osborne said. “This is something special they will be able to remember the rest of their lives.”
Osborne is one of four coaches that have led the state’s most successful program, along with Jimmy Durham, Shane Weaver, and Marsha Mosley. Osborne probably knows more than anyone what it is like to be a part of the North Laurel program.
“It says a lot about North Laurel softball from the middle school all the way down to the Little League, the dedication these girls have to have to play at a program like North Laurel. It’s great that we continue the tradition of winning,” Osborne said.
Osborne has been part of some of the most celebrated and most heartbreaking moments at North Laurel. She was part of the 2000 team that was one win away from the state title after they swept through the winner’s bracket. It wasn’t meant to be that year as Manual pulled out a 1-0 win in the first championship game of the double elimination tournament. North Laurel then lost the second game with the winning run scoring on a bad hop over shortstop Heather Dufour’s head in the last inning.
“I think that was 75 percent of why we won the state tournament the next year. We didn’t want to have that feeling again,” Osborne said.
North Laurel would win the title the next year with Osborne on the mound. Along with the state title and 600 wins, the Jaguars can also claim being ranked in USA Today as high as 15th nationally, 14 region titles, and a pair of state runner-up finishes.
It takes much more than good players to be the first team to 600 wins. Osborne points to a community and culture that has allowed the program to flourish. This includes a lot of behind-the-scenes support from parents and boosters.
“The community has helped. You can tell with our signs (on the outfield fence) that we have a lot of support for our softball team. The parents are great. They never complain if there is something we ask them to do,” Osborne said. “Without this community, we could not be the program we are.”
The North Laurel players have also become heroes and role models to the younger girls in the community that someday hope to wear the Kelly green and blue.
“My seven-year old looks up to every single one of these girls. They are her idols, her role models,” Osborne said. “And they are good girls to be role models.”
The schools valedictorian will be a Lady Jaguar with both Sidney Herrell and Farris Strong boasting 4.8 GPAs. Emily Sears scored a 31 on her ACT.
“They are role models outside the softball field too,” Osborne said. “Every girl on here has a good Christian faith. I like to see the praying before the game because too many times we have God taken out.”
If there is a downside to success, it is being felt by this year’s team. There is a pressure that comes with winning. While most teams would be thrilled with North Laurel’s current 15-9 record, it is more than North Laurel has lost in some seasons.
“That’s been our problem with hitting and everything else. They have so much pressure put on them that they can’t relax and do what they know to do,” Osborne said. “I think every program has their ups and downs. Some years are better than other ones. I’ve always said you can have all the talent in the world and if you don’t have the heart for it. The heart is what carries you through sometimes.”
Thursday’s win over Middlesboro was more typical of what you expect from the Lady Jaguars. North Laurel took a first-inning lead on an RBI double by Kailin Yantz. Megan Baldwin added an RBI double in the second inning and scored on a Mikayla Vires’ groundout for a 3-0 lead.
Strong and Sears singled in the fourth inning and scored on errors. Vanessa Smith also singled and scored on an error in the fifth inning as the lead reached 6-0.
North Laurel ended the game with six straight hits to open the sixth inning. Smith’s single drove in the game-ending run.
North Laurel had 13 hits and Baldwin allowed just three hits with nine strikeouts in a 10-0, six-inning win over Middlesboro.
After the game, a banner celebrating the historic win was displayed on the mound by the coaches and team. The six seniors on this year’s team were joined by last year’s only senior, Kristen Fields, and several other former players that had a role in the 600 wins.
North Laurel played host to the Team Jaguar Invitational over the weekend, and are scheduled to host Rockcastle County tonight.