Madisonville North Hopkins has arrived in Lexington to try win their second state championship in three years starting this afternoon against Clay County.
The last time the Lady Maroons made the state tournament, they went home with the trophy in 2017.
"I think both the 2017 and 2019 teams are similar," said Shannon Peyton, who coached the 2017 squad. "They have good defense this year. Courtney Patterson is still pitching for them, and a lot of young players have stepped up to fill the roles of those who graduated."
"This year's Lady Maroons team contains so many key players from that 2017 team," former Lady Maroon and current Alabama standout Kaylee Tow said. "My graduating class had some good players, but they still have girls like Patterson and MyKayla Spurlin and Jayda Perkins."
North will be playing on a much bigger stage than they are used to with the tournament being played at John Cropp Stadium, home of the University of Kentucky Wildcats, for the first time. And every game is a must-win situation with the tournament moving to a single-elimination format this year.
Former Lady Maroon and current Kentucky Wildcat Mallory Peyton gets to play her home games at John Cropp Stadium.
"Playing at John Cropp is just spectacular," Mallory Peyton said. "It's going to be great for them since not many high school players can say that they played there. Obviously, they'll be excited but calming down the nerves is going to be key for them. The field is the same as any other softball field there will just be a lot more people watching them in the stands."
Tow has also had the chance to play at the stadium.
"The bases are still 60 feet away from each other no matter if you're playing at John Cropp Stadium or Lady Maroon field," Tow said. "It doesn't matter how many people are in the stands or how big the stadium is, they just have to simplify the game. The seniors know that this is their last weekend playing North softball, and I'd tell them to leave it all out on the field with no regrets."
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"They'll have to lay it all out on the field with it being single-elimination," she said. "A lot of the veteran players will rely on experience playing in big games while some of them haven't played in a venue like UK. But the field is the same size no matter how big the stadium is. But I think it's awesome that they get to play at John Cropp Stadium and they should enjoy the experience."
Peyton also had some advice to current Lady Maroons coach Whitney Barber.
"Whitney should also enjoy it as much as the players," Peyton said. "They'll be losing a bunch of seniors after the tournament, so you never know when they'll be back as they rebuild after this year. She should also let them take it all in and not over coach."
"I was on the other side of the fence screaming my lungs off back in 2017," Barber said. "We pretty much have some of the same girls from that team. Patterson has pitched in this atmosphere before, Spurlin caught for her in that tournament, Perkins and Bailey Woodward have been here. It's in their grasp, they just need to reach out there and take it."
First pitch is slated for 3 p.m. CST today.