With her career coming to an end, everything has come full circle for Boyd County’s Emily Stewart.
Stewart and Ashland’s McKenzie Vanover were honored as the top players on The Independent’s 2013 All-Area Softball Team.
For Stewart, grabbing that top honor after watching so many great players before her earn the award is humbling.
“It’s an honor to be ranked up high with the best players,” Stewart said. “It’s probably what I worked for my whole life, other than regionals. It feels good to go out on top.
“It’s bittersweet because I’ve watched some really good players go down there and get that award.”
The three-sport star isn’t making her first appearance on an All-Area team this school year. Stewart made All-Area teams for both soccer and basketball as a senior as well.
This is also her third straight appearance on the All-Area Softball Team. Stewart’s also been honored at the state level, being named first-team All-State last week.
And while all this is good for the Governor’s Scholar and future Louisville student, she said she would give up all the individual accolades to have had a region title in her career.
“I wanted to win the region,and since I couldn’t do that this is the other best way,” Stewart said. “But I think it’s going to be worse when I come back and watch people play and I’m not on the field. Right now I have a job to keep me occupied, but I’m going to be sad.
“I gave it my best.”
Boyd County was also represented by Taylor Wheeler, who received All-State honorable mention honors after her bat and glove helped lead Boyd County to a region semifinals appearance.
Vanover played a big part in guiding the Kittens to their fifth straight state appearance behind her bat.
Vanover slugged in 56 runs this season while hitting 15 home runs, which is fifth most in state history according to the KHSAA. And the junior said she has more in store for next year.
“All the work, the sweat and all the time that’s been put in this year has finally paid off and I can finally see that,” Vanover said. “I’m just going to keep working hard to continue and get better at the sport and go to college and be the best I can be.”
One of Vanover’s top accomplishments of the year came against Ironton early in the season when she had eight RBIs.
Vanover said nothing compares to winning the Kittens first game at state — the first time that’s happened in five tries.
“We went out there and started out strong,” Vanover said. “We knew people at the beginning, and throughout the season, who thought we were the underdogs and couldn’t come out on top. And we ended up going back to state and going farther than we ever have before.”
Ashland also got a big season from Megan Hensley, who came away with the Pitcher of the Year award.
Hensley was dominant in the circle this season, finishing with 403 strikeouts, 24 wins and a 0.99 earned run average.
But what could be the most impressive statistic is the five of no-hitters Hensley threw this season. There was also a stretch in which she threw three consecutive no-hitters.
Stewart, who faced Hensley in three games this season, said the at-bats were always a “battle”
“It’s very intense,” Stewart said. “She gets on the mound and throws quick and you never know what you’re going to get. A battle is the best way you can put it.”
Representing Ashland along with Hensley and Vanover was Sydney Whitt who, despite missing the end of the season with a leg injury, was able to pick up Kentucky Softball Coaches Association’s Player of the Year for the 16th Region.
Coach of the Year honors went to Rowan County’s Larry Slone, who had a lot of prestigious moments this season.
Slone was also inducted into the KSCA Hall of Fame over the weekend. For Slone, the week is special because the honor is for something he’s always been passionate about.
“Fast-pitch softball has always been a passion of mine,” Slone said. “It started playing when I was 16 in northern Indiana and it’s something I’ve always loved. And to get a chance to coach it when it came to Kentucky is even a bigger honor.”
The 19-year veteran led his team to a 22-16 record and, more impressively, a 61st District championship after losing four straight games to end the regular season.
“It’s real special because the coaches in the region vote for that and they are your peers,” Slone said. “You hope they recognize that you have done everything you could do with the team you have. It’s pretty special to know they voted that way.”
Slone looked toward the leadership of junior pitcher Morgan Mitchell and sophomore outfielder Becca Duff.
Rowan County was able to win the district against Menifee County, who was led by All-Area selection Erika Brewer to the Lady Cats’ first region tournament appearance since 2002.
The pitcher finished the season with over 300 strikeouts and had one of the best strikeout-per-game averages in the state. She was all named first team All-State.
Another strong pitcher, Mallory Powell, helped launch Russell to the region championship game and had a no-hitter in a win against Ashland early in the season.
Also representing the Lady Devils were Hannah Carter and catcher Arden Gross, who was an All-Area selection in volleyball and basketball as well.
In a rare feat, Raceland’s Bre Grubb finds herself on the All-Area team for the fifth straight year, the first time a player has done that in recent memory, possibly ever. Grubb hit .461 with five home runs and 31 RBIs while striking out just eight times.
Lawrence County was led by Kristin Caudill and Samantha Fitzpatrick to a 24-12 record — second best in the 15th Region. Fitzpatrick was named second-team All-State while Caudill played in the East/West All-Star series in Louisville this season.
Johnson Central’s Lauren Delong was also named second team All-State after taking the Lady Eagles to a region championship game.
East Carter had two selections in Tori Qualls and Jordyn Wiler, who both batted over .500 for the Lady Raiders. They won their first region title since 2008.
Leatha Reynolds was the one representative from West Carter, while Brooke Johnson was the lone player from Greenup County. Both pitchers dealt with injury early on in the season before leading their teams to region tournament berths.
Reynolds, a junior, is making her third appearance on the All-Area team.
Fairview was represented by sophomore Sarah Dunn who helped the Lady Eagles to an improved 17-14 record this season.
Brewer, Carter, Gross, Grubb, Mitchell, Powell, Reynolds, Stewart, Vanover and Wheeler were the players who repeated from last season.
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.