Alyssa Woolums didn't see a single at-bat during Scott County's playoff run to the KHSAA softball state championship last spring.
The senior catcher also had never hit a home run before Monday's 11th Region quarterfinal game at Lois Holmes Field, and we don't just mean at the varsity level.
"Not even in practice," Woolums said.
Practice has made perfect for the senior, who bounces back and forth between catcher and first base for the Lady Cards.
Her offense, not coincidentally, has ascended to a big-game level in the second half of the season. Woolums' no-doubt missile over the wall in left field was the loudest of her three hits in a 7-1 victory over Tates Creek.
"The last two or three weeks it's come on," SC coach Jeff Portwood said of Woolums' bat. "She's the type of kid that doesn't give up. She struggled through the first part of the year, but she stayed with it, and it's paid off."
Woolums and junior left fielder Ashley Adkins — also new to the varsity lineup this season — were a combined 6-for-6 to keep Scott County's title defense in business.
SC ultimately fell to Madison Southern, 10-9, in Tuesday’s semifinals at Tates Creek. Woodford County joined Madison Southern in the final.
"We've got three experienced players. The rest of them are kind of inexperienced (at this time of year)," Portwood said. "They're not ready for it to end, so we're going to try to take this thing all the way out."
Woolums’ two fellow seniors, Sam Sims and Carly Oliver, each were 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Sims scored three runs, including SC’s initial tally after leading off with a triple in the bottom of the first inning.
Oliver, who led the team with nine home runs this season, provided one anxious moment when she was tagged across the helmet — and knocked flat on her back — while trying to take an extra base in the fourth inning. She eventually jogged off and stayed in the game.
Katlyn Mullins scattered eight hits, struck out four and walked only one in a complete-game victory.
Woolums ignited the fourth inning with her home run to expand what was already a 3-0 lead. Even having never hit one in the past, she was confident when it left the bat.
"I kind of looked at it and said, 'Oh, I hope that one's out,'"Woolums said. "I've been putting in a lot of extra work outside of practice, and I know a lot of other girls have, too. I think our team is coming along pretty good."
Thanks to aggressive base running, the Lady Cards notched two additional runs in that frame.
Bianca Ward reached base on a dropped fly ball, followed by Savannah Adams' sharp single up the middle.
Sims' grounder enticed a late throw home in an attempt to get Ward.
Adams attempted to score when the ball trickled to the backstop, but the Lady Commodores made the play at home.
Oliver made it 6-0 with her RBI single, took second on an ill-fated throw home, then ran into the jarring out at third.
"We opened it up a little bit on the bases in that inning and the inning before," Portwood said. "You try to put the pressure on the defense to make the plays, especially early in the game. Then you tighten it up a little bit."
Tates Creek (30-8) didn't fade away. Singles by Shaylin Lewis and Olivia Shadowen and a double by Sophie Kluesner put the Lady Commodores on the board and gave them two runners in scoring position with nobody out.
Mullins buckled down and got a grounder to Savannah Merriman at third base, backed by pops to Oliver and Woolums, to salvage the big lead.
"She's been strong all year," Portwood said of Mullins. "I thought she was getting tired there toward the end. I was getting ready to make a move, but she took care of it. And our defense has been solid."
SC added insurance in sixth with Sims' single, followed by a Nani Valencia double.
Mullins retired the first eight Tates Creek batters, giving SC a chance to settle in with a run in the opening frame and two more in the second.
"I know (the lead) relaxed me, because it gives you the chance not to make a mistake, but it's like you've got a little bit of a breather there," Woolums said.
Sims started the game with a triple and scored on a hit by Oliver. Adkins' lead-off double, a base hit by Woolums and Ward's walk loaded the bases against Lillie Kluesner with nobody out in the second.
A grounder by Adams led to an unsuccessful fielder's choice for a 2-0 lead.
Peyton Plotts' shoestring grab in center and throw to Shelby Easton at second base robbed Sims and produced a double play, although courtesy runner Camryn Lookadoo scored on the back end as a consolation prize.
"We jumped on it, We knew the pitcher pretty well, so we worked the past couple days on slower pitches," Portwood said. "Against Madison Southern, we know it will be a little bit faster, with more spin on the ball."
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.