When South Knox faced Class A No. 1 Tecumseh in mid-May, sophomore catcher Lily Culp came up to bat twice with runners on base. These were chances for the Spartans to narrow the gap against the eventual state champions.
Or, they would have been. Veteran Braves coach Gordon Wood took those chances away by showing Culp the ultimate sign of respect in softball.
“I've known Gordon a long time, and we've both been coaching for a long time,” South Knox coach Doug Houchin said. “Twice in the Tecumseh game, he intentionally walked Lily when we had two runners on base. Those were the exact situations where she'd been excelling in all year.”
Wood knew what he was doing. He'd seen Culp's statistics on MaxPreps and knew the sophomores was the Spartans' top hitter. Tecumseh went on to win that May 17th matchup at WIN Energy Field, 11-5, which was the exact same score by which the Braves downed South Central in the Class A state title game last month.
“He said he'd seen our stats, and he saw her coming up with runners on base and he wasn't about to let her beat them,” Houchin said. “So I'm probably not putting our stats on MaxPreps anymore.”
Culp finished the season with a team-best .494 average, but her most eye-popping number is the 37 RBIs, which averages out to 1.5 per game and is a South Knox single-season record.
She also led the Spartans with 42 hits and tied for the area lead with three home runs. She scored 14 runs and struck out just four times. Culp's final numbers could have been even better, but she dealt with some minor sickness during the team's final five games, which included half of those four strikeouts.
“Her doctors put her on meds, and she was run down, but she never complained and still gave it her all,” Houchin said. “Had she not gotten sick, I believe she would have also set the school record for hits and batting average.
“She was clutch. I think she finished with five sacrifice flies, and she just came up with one big hit after another. We had girls who were great at getting on base in front of her, and give those girls credit for getting on. But Lily was clutch in getting them in too. When she had the opportunities, she didn't waste them.”
The offense alone makes Culp a worthy selection as this year's Sun-Commercial Player of the Year, but she also excelled on the defensive end at one of the most important positions, catcher. The South Knox backstop had the best fielding percentage on the team at .989. She had just two passed balls on the season and threw out 40 percent of runners attempting to steal. By comparison the average in Major League Baseball is 30 percent.
“Most teams didn't try to run on her. Tecumseh may have had three or four steals, but you're talking about a state-caliber team,” Houchin said. “She's also probably as good at framing pitches as any catcher I've ever had. She's good about turning that pitch in, that's maybe a little off the plate, and getting the umpire to give a strike. She's just a solid defensive player. She didn't win our defensive award, but she probably could have. Her defense was that strong.”
Culp was also an all-Blue Chip Conference selection, and she was voted by her teammates as the Spartans' mental attitude award winner and top offensive player.
South Knox was the county's best this year, finishing 14-11. North Knox went 6-13 and Lincoln 6-16. It's a young S-C all-area team this season, with just three seniors and also two freshmen.
Joining the all-area catcher on the squad are teammates sophomore pitcher Ally Sims, sophomore infielder Mattilynn Ashley, and junior outfielder Kenzie Johnson. Representing the Alices are infielders senior Chloe Cardinal and junior Allyson Beckort, senior outfielder Dani Kroeger and senior utility Katilyn Helderman. For the Warriors are freshman pitcher Ally Crist, junior infielder Hailey Pahmeier and freshman outfielder Javen Miller.
Cardinal and Kroeger are making their third appearance on the all-area softball team. Culp, Sims, Johnson and Pahmeier are all repeat selections.
Fr. | P | North Knox
Season stats: .359 average, 15 RBIs, 14 runs, 5 steals
Pitching stats: 34 innings pitched, five starts, 24 strikeouts, 1-4 record, 4.73 earned run average
Season accolades: Team offensive player award
Coach John Kixmiller: “Ally became the starting shortstop at the beginning of the season as a freshman. She showed the tools to become a varsity starting pitcher starting in the winter workouts, and she progressed well into the spring until a leg injury slowed her pitching progress. Still her hitting stayed the course, as she hit consistently around .350 all season. Ally proved to be a team leader throughout the season.”
So. | P | South Knox
Season stats: .309 average, 3 home runs, 18 RBIs
Pitching stats: 160 innings, 24 starts, 139 strikeouts, 13-11 record, 2.80 ERA
Season accolades: all-Blue Chip Conference pitcher, Team pitching award
Coach Doug Houchin: “As a sophomore she really improved over last season. The games where she did her worst coincided with the games where we played our worst defense. She had about five games where she gave up a lot of hits, but we also had at least five or six errors in all of those games, and that allowed things to snowball. She shut out North Knox, Wood Memorial and Shoals (in conference games), and her conference ERA was 0.60. Her most amazing feat was pitching all 15 innings against Lawrenceville, picking up the win in a four-hour contest. She also hit cleanup for us and had a solid year offensively.”
So. | IF | South Knox
Season stats: .300 average, .429 on-base percentage, 1 home run, 22 RBIs, 26 runs, 7 doubles
Season accolades: Team defensive award
Houchin: “Her range (at shortstop) is some of the best I've ever had, and her ability to apply tags is fearless. She stays in there and takes the contact, catches the ball and makes the tag for the out. She also makes a relay through from the outfield as well as any player I've ever had. We nailed several runners at third and home due to her and Kenzie. Mattilynn's biggest improvement was her hitting. Batting second, she did a good job of getting on base, scoring and advancing runners. Kenzie and Lily both owe her for the stats they were able to put up. She didn't make all-conference even though her stats were much better than some of the players voted. I guess it's hard for some coaches to vote four players from one team, but she deserved it.”
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Jr. | IF | Lincoln
Season stats: .364 average, .485 on-base percentage, 12 runs, 6 RBIs, 4 doubles, 14 steals, 13 walks (team-high)
Coach Corbin McCrary: “Allyson is a player every coach wants on her team. Her love and attitude for the game goes above and beyond. She gives everything she can on the field. If we kept track, I'm sure Allyson had the most dives on the team. She loves to get dirty and not let the ball get past her (at second base). Allyson was another one where you get confident when she gets up to bat. She had many hits to get our team going in rallies this year.”
Sr. | IF | Lincoln
Season stats: .479 average, .513 on-base percentage, 25 runs, 16 RBIs, 34 hits, 26 steals, 7 triples, 5 doubles (all team-bests)
Season accolades: all-SIAC 2nd team, McDonald's Student Athlete award, team offensive award
McCrary: “Chloe was a name teams didn't want to see on the line-up card. She's an above-average player who always gives 100 percent. When Chloe steps up to the plate, she has full confidence that she's going to do something for her team. When it comes to playing the field, Chloe made some amazing plays (at shortstop). You want the ball hit to Chloe. When it comes to leadership, she was the definition of it. She made plays both offensively and defensively to pick her team up.”
Jr. | IF | North Knox
Season stats: .315 average, .433 on-base percentage, 13 RBIs, 10 runs, 3 doubles, 2 home runs
Season accolades: Team defensive award
Kixmiller: “Hailey is the constant in the lineup who you hope to have every year. All year she showed this, and in the sectional game, she had two big hits, a double and a home run, that gave us a shot at winning. She played the 'hot corner' (third base) well all year with her strong throwing arm.”
Jr. | OF | South Knox
Season stats: .568 on-base percentage, 34 runs, 34 steals (both area-bests); .427 average, 1 home run, 4 doubles, 12 RBIs
Season accolades: all-Blue Chip Conference, Team batting award
Houchin: “She had an excellent offensive year. Early on, most of her hits were coming on bunts, but in May she got hot and started driving the ball more. She came real close to setting both runs and stolen base records, and her speed is game-changing. Early in the year she played third base while Leah (Ellermann) was rehabbing. Most of her errors were made there. In center field, she relaxed, and that's about the time her hitting came on. She had four or five assists from there, and that slowed up a lot of teams of trying to take the extra base on us.”
Sr. | OF | Lincoln
Season stats: .368 average, .434 on-base percentage, 21 runs, 9 RBIs, 5 doubles (tied team-best), 2 home runs, 1 triple
Season accolades: Team defensive award
McCrary: “Dani is any coach's dream as a center fielder. Dani was a leader in the outfield, and it showed. She constantly talked to the outfielders on either side of her, and we had full confidence when the ball was hit to Dani this year. She also had a strong bat, hitting in the No. 1 or 2 spot in the lineup all season. She also took the first pitch of the season over the left-field fence, which was a fun way to start off.”
Fr. | OF | North Knox
Season stats: .304 average, 3 triples, 1 double, 14 runs, 6 RBIs, 13 steals
Season accolades: all-Blue Chip Conference
Kixmiller: “Javen was another welcome freshman to the softball team. We knew that she was going to be a good player coming off her junior high travel ball season. She started slowly in the season, but as it progressed, she heated up at the plate. In the Blue Chip Conference she batted .411 with six steals, garnering all-conference honors.”
Sr. | Utility | Lincoln
Season stats: .372 average, .491 on-base percentage, 6 RBIs, 6 steals, 2 runs, 1 double, 10 walks-6 strikeouts (area-best ratio)
Season accolades: Team mental attitude award
McCrary: “Katilyn really stepped it up this year. She made huge improvements behind the plate that our team needed. She also did the same offensively. Kaitlyn works hard all-around, and she's the definition of a team player. Kaitlyn was one who gave her all in both practices and games. You couldn't go to a game without hearing Kaitlyn talking on the field. She was loud, and that's all you can ask of a good catcher."