There was a lot of nail-biting for Henderson County High School sports fans the second weekend of June when both the Lady Colonels softball team and the Colonels baseball team were in contention for a state championship.
When most high school athletes are recuperating from a busy season of competition, prepping for the next season or organizing their belongings for a move to college, HCHS softball and baseball team members were playing for the hardware.
The Lady Colonels softball team advanced all the way to the state championship game before coming just a hair short of the tallest trophy. They ran out of steam in a 12-4 loss to the state’s number-one ranked team and defending state champions, Louisville Ballard.
And the HCHS Colonels baseball team elbowed their way into a state semi-final game with an impressive late season run. They just fell short of the championship game after a loss to Whitley County in the semi-final.
Conveniently for Henderson County fans, both games were played in Lexington on June 9-10, which also made it easy for the teams to support each other as fans in the stands.
It was a magical, emotional, exciting weekend that was certainly dreamed of, but not counted on, during the day-to-day practices and regular-season routine.
The No. 5-ranked Lady Colonels faced a Ballard Bruins team that had experienced only one loss during the season. The Lady Colonels were coming off a hard-fought 10-inning game against East Jessamine the prior evening in the semi-finals that saw sophomore Anna Kemp hurl 176 pitches with 21 strike-outs and finally a 4-1 victory.
In the championship game with Kemp pitching again, the Lady Colonels fell behind in the first two innings but had a rally in the third inning to make it a one-run game. But the defending state champs were just too much for the weary Lady Colonels and prevailed.
The Lady Colonels finished the season 33-6 after logging post-season wins against Union County (District Championship), Caldwell County (Regional Championship), Great Crossing (Sweet 16), East Hardin (Elite 8) and East Jessamine (Final 4).
Colonel junior Taylor Troutman was named first-team All-State by the Kentucky Softball Coaches Association. Anna Kemp, Hallie McCracken and Kendal Hargrove were named to the state All-Tournament Team.
Coach Shannon Troutman, who has coached the team since 2018 and led the team to the state quarter-finals in 2022, said the key to building the Lady Colonels’ program into one of the best in the state is pretty simple.
“We’ve changed the culture of Henderson softball where they expect to win instead of being surprised to win,” he said. “These kids … are pushing hard to get good.”
Because of that work ethic, he said, his players put in a lot of individual work in addition to regular practice sessions, which really bonds a team.
“I tell them every year to leave their legacy on the game. For their team,” the coach said.
He said he can “totally see us making another push to the championship round next year.”
As for Colonels baseball, the prospects in post-season play didn’t look great when the team had a 14-17 record at the end of the regular season.
But a spark grew into a flame that burned all the way to the state tournament. They beat Union County for the District Championship, then defeated the top three teams in the Second Region tournament (including Christian County and Mr. Kentucky Baseball Elijah Underhill) to claim their first title since 2013, then dispatched Pulaski County in the Sweet 16 and four-time state champion Harrison County in the Elite 8 before losing to Whitley County 2-1 in the Final 4.
In his five seasons as coach, Hines won 107 games, this year’s regional title, two regional runners-up and four district championships.
Coach Adam Hines attributed the rebound at the end of the season to fortitude.
“The kids have never quit,” he said. “I was happy for the guys and proud of them that they played so well at the end of the season.”
The Colonels ended at 20-18.
Senior center fielder/pitcher Dru Meadows, who is signed to play at Oakland City University and was selected Third-Team All-State, was named to the All-Tournament Team along with his teammate, second baseman/pitcher Brennan Cates.
A few days after both teams were recognized with trophy presentations at their respective home fields, Coach Hines told his players that he was stepping down as their coach.
His decision, he said, was made to focus on his health, family and his teaching duties. Hines had a kidney transplant in 2021.