'Winning cures everything': Bulldogs early success leads to 2A final, preparing for stretch run

Apr. 26—When a coach takes on a new position at a different program, the hope is to have some success out of the gate, but it doesn't always work that way.

Roadblocks can get in the way. It takes time for the team to get acclimated to a new system, buy into a new culture, or just come together as a cohesive unit.

Lawrence County coach Justin Adkins hasn't had to worry about roadblocks since taking over the softball program this season.

"I was excited when I got here," Adkins said. "I was well aware of the talent that was there and they haven't disappointed, that's for sure."

The Bulldogs' talent propelled the program to a 19-0 start to the season and a trip to the Kentucky2A state championship game this past Saturday in Owensboro.

It's all been a testament to the team's abilities and their determination to be a top-notch program since before the season started.

"You can't trick these kids into buying in," Adkins said. "I think they can read the passion and see the intensity every day in practice. We've been going since August with voluntary open workouts. and they know this coaching staff is here for them on and off the field. They know we love them."

"That's key to them buying in," he added. "They know everything we ask of them is for the betterment of this team."

And while Lawrence County came up just short against Harrison County in the 2A title game, the level of fight the Bulldogs showed proved they're ready not just to make it there, but to win there.

"We weren't happy to just get there, we wanted to compete," Adkins said. "We did just that and won two really tough games there."

Lawrence County's Danielle Crum, a University of Pikeville commit who was named to the 2023 All-State team, said the chance to play in the 2A tournament was a memorable achievement. It was successful because of the team's unity.

"The experience was definitely unforgettable," Crum said. "Our team really seemed to come together as one and we had so much fight in us."

Lawrence County won the first game in the tournament against Warren East 9-7 in a game where the Bulldogs had to get acclimated to the turf field.

"Warren East is a really good team that can put the ball in play and really tried to put pressure on us," Adkins said. "The turf was really something new for us. We've only played a few games on it, but we need to get used to it because that's what our region tournament will be played on."

The second game saw Lawrence County completely shut down Bath County from the circle.

The Wildcats have two of the top 25 hitters in the state according to KHSAA stats, with Ashtyn Barrett and Taylor Hodson recording 40 hits and 35 hits respectively so far this season.

"Bath County just hits," Adkins said. "One through nine, they all hit. Our pitcher, Brooklyn Ellis, held them to one hit which I think is a huge statement to everybody in the area. It's pretty special."

Pitching has been a high point for the Bulldogs this season. Ellis currently holds a 0.69 ERA across 40.2 innings pitched with 72 strikeouts.

In addition, Lawrence County has Taylor Blevins who can command the circle as well. She currently has a 2.17 ERA across 61.1 innings pitched with 75 strikeouts.

"It's really like a 1A and 1B situation," Adkins said of ranking his pitchers. "It's really good to be able to write those names down every game and feel like we have the advantage. Brooklyn has been great with a sub-one ERA. Taylor had a six-run inning against Harrison County, but her numbers are still great and she's going to bounce right back. She's a stud."

And as if that wasn't enough of a successful pool to pick from, Adkins has a third pitcher who recently made her varsity debut, Ella Smith.

Smith pitched a perfect game in her first game, helping secure a 15-0 win in a three-inning mercy.

"Ellie is really just right behind Taylor and Brooklyn," Adkins said. "As soon as she got her first shot, she threw a perfect game. So it goes a lot deeper than just our two pitchers."

In the 2A championship game, the Bulldogs quickly found themselves down 6-0 against Harrison County at the end of the first inning, but they didn't panic.

Lawrence County nearly erased the deficit in the bottom of the second frame with a five-run inning to make it 6-5.

The Fillies were able to grind out the win, but it didn't take away the special moment for the Bulldogs.

"Competing in the finals was the chance of a lifetime and school history for us," Crum said. "We were playing for more than just another win. I'm so proud of the whole team for the fight we put up in each of the 2A games."

Adkins couldn't agree more.

"It was something that's never been done at Lawrence County," Adkins said. "It was special. I'm proud of my girls and how they played."

Addalyn Woods, Crum and Ellis were named to the Kentucky 2A All-Tournament team.

Adkins came to Lawrence County from Chesapeake, West Virginia, to replace Kenny Horn after 11 seasons. Adkins has been coaching on the diamond for 19 years.

He says the transition to Bulldog country has been great, especially within the community.

"It's been great," Adkins said of his first year. "I'm a bit of an outsider from West Virginia. A bit of an unknown. But once I got here and people saw that all-in mentality, I think everyone has bought in. If you go to our practices, there might be 40 people there watching."

He also adds that winning so much out of the gate doesn't hurt either.

"Winning cures everything," Adkins said. "And it's getting increasingly better."

Crum says the transition was worth it.

"It was an adjustment for the entire team at first, including Adkins," Crum said. "We've continued working hard for the success of the program. We gained a couple of family members and we've come to love coach Adkins and coach (Jason) Smith as a team."

With the softball season entering the back stretch of the schedule, Adkins and the team are looking forward to playing more stiff competition to get ready for the postseason.

"We have a nice 16th Region stretch toward the end of the season," Adkins said. "The girls are really excited about competing. They want to play the better teams as we get closer to regions. We always have Johnson Central, who got us last year so the girls are fired up for that one."

For Crum, making a run in the postseason and taking the region crown would be a great way to cap off her time in a Bulldogs uniform.

"I've already had an extremely blessed softball career at Lawrence County... (I'd) love to top off my career as the 15th Region champions and have the opportunity to play at John Cropp Stadium. Our season and the work we do is built around getting there."

Lawrence County improved to 20-1 with a 8-0 win over Pikeville on Tuesday.

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