The last time Sarah Ivory rode a yellow bus to a state softball tournament, she was an eager understudy to veteran Hall of Famer Ed Foulk.
The year was 2003, and her Kenton Ridge High School coaching career was just getting started.
“I still talk to him all the time,” said Ivory, now 81-26 in her fourth season as Cougars’ head coach. “After every game, the first person I call is my dad. The second person I talk to is Ed.”
Ivory and the Cougars are just one win away from notching the program’s sixth state berth, looking to end a 10-year dry spell.
Kenton Ridge (29-2) faces Greenville (25-6) at 11 a.m. today at Mason in the regional finals in a battle of Division II heavyweights.
The highly anticipated matchup features a friendly Springfield connection on both sides of the diamond.
Greenville coach Jerrod Newland, a Shawnee graduate and the son of former Springfield South legend Greg Newland, coached Ivory during her teen years when she played for the Springfield Thunder.
“Even though he’s just six months older than me,” Ivory said, laughing. “Jerrod and I are good friends. It will be a fun game for all. Hopefully, we’re on the up side. If not, then it’s great that a team my friend coaches can go in our place.”
The Cougars are seeking their sixth state berth since breakthrough appearances in 1997, ‘98 and ‘99. Ivory, a ‘98 grad, was a second baseman and catcher on two of those squads.
They added state runner-up titles in 1999, 2002 and 2003.
“We’re in a pretty even-keeled mindset right now,” said Ivory, whose team is hitting .377 with 52 doubles, 31 triples, 15 home runs and 208 RBIs. “We don’t get down. Even when we’re behind we believe in ourselves.”
Paige McCrary, Learic Kinser and Mykee Holtz pace the Cougars’ explosive offense, hitting .578, .516 and .462, respectively.
McCrary, a senior, first-team, All-Ohio catcher, leads KR in RBis (51) and has eight doubles, five triples and 6 home runs. Holtz, a freshman shortstop, owns a Cougar-best 12 homers.
“Our girls are excited to play. They’re really starting to realize just how cool this is,” Ivory said.
KR pitcher Courtney Lopez (23-2, 1.86 ERA) has been rock solid inside the circle, striking out 134 through 172.2 innings.
Greenville counters with a .338 team batting average of its own. Erin Albright (.474), Haleigh Luce (.468), Jazzlyn Petry (.456). and Ally Russell (.385) have combined for 118 of the Green Wave’s 183 RBIs and all eight of its home runs.
Russell, 25-5 and a first-team, All-Ohio hurler, has fanned 197 through 179.2 innings and sports an 0.94 ERA.