Bird of a different color

Jeff Portwood, who coached Scott County to three state, four region and six district championships in six seasons at the helm, told his team Tuesday night that he will take over the post at the new Great Crossing High School next season.

Great Crossing High School has pulled a fair share of its inaugural varsity sports coaches from the other side of the “Birds’ Nest” and Scott County High School.

The Warhawks announced late Tuesday that they have converted their most decorated Cardinal to date.

Jeff Portwood, who guided the Lady Cards to KHSAA softball state championships in 2014, 2016 and 2018, has been named the first fast-pitch coach at Great Crossing.

GCHS also made a significant catch from its neighbor on the baseball diamond. Greg Stratton, an assistant with the Cards for the past eight seasons, has been tabbed to lead the first Warhawks’ club.

“We got together as a coaching staff and talked about a lot of things at the end of the season, that (the new school) being one of them,” Portwood said. 

“The more we talked, we kind of decided that we’d instilled a pretty good tradition over at Scott County. You can see the signs all over the field and the trophies all over the school. We thought maybe we’d try and build and instill the same tradition in the same community but at a different school.”

Others selected to lead spring programs are Jessica Catron (tennis), Nick Slucher (boys’ track and field), Glenn Wilson (girls’ track and field) and Dewayne Hancock (bass fishing).

Portwood, 54, informed the team of his decision at their annual banquet Tuesday evening.

“I think they’d kind of heard the rumors and had some idea what was going on,” Portwood said. “They took it pretty well. There were no hard feelings. I think we’re leaving everything over there on pretty good terms.”

Open enrollment remains in progress for part of the summer. Scott County rising juniors and seniors have the choice of which school to attend and are not necessarily tied to their new district.

“Most of the younger players I think are coming over to the new school, although I don’t know that for sure,” Portwood said.

Portwood presided over a golden age in Scott County softball. The Lady Cards were a consistent presence at the district, region and state level before his arrival six seasons ago, but SC flourished with an astonishing record of 191 wins and 40 losses (.827) in that time span.

With only three seniors on this year’s Scott County team and open enrollment ongoing, time will tell where the other pieces land next spring.

“A lot of young kids stepped up, a lot of first-year starters,” Portwood said. “What they showed this year, what they proved, I’m pretty proud.”

Past success set an almost unthinkable standard.

His initial team, led by pitching star Marlee Tevis, tournament most valuable player Katie Stamper and all-tournament performer Kelci Long, capped its run with a thrilling 7-6 victory over McCracken County to win the program’s first state title.

“We’ve shown that it’s attainable right here in Scott County,” Portwood said.

Tevis picked up four of the Lady Cards’ five pitching wins in the tournament, while five different players fueled the offense with at least one home run.

Scott County successfully defended its regional title the following year, punctuating a 31-10 season with a nine-inning, first-round victory over Mercy at state. Losses to Male and North Laurel ended the season.

The Lady Cards returned with a vengeance in 2016, winning 36 of its 39 games en route to another championship. SC, led by Taylor Ricketts and sophomores Kennedy Sullivan and Hannah Davis, once again had two chances to finish off McCracken County in the championship round and prevailed 9-7 in the deciding game.

Rated a potential preseason favorite to repeat in 2017, Scott County went 32-5 but was derailed, 1-0, by Woodford County in the regional final.

That fueled a season for the ages the next spring. Sullivan, Davis and Princess Valencia headlined a battle-tested group of 10 seniors, all of whom are now playing at the collegiate level.

Valencia’s base hit provided the winning run in a 13-inning marathon against Warren East, and a mercy-rule margin in the rematch put a lid on the triple crown. SC set a school record with 38 wins against a pair of losses, each by a single run.

Portwood saved perhaps his toughest coaching job for last, guiding an almost completely new-look roster to Scott County’s 14th consecutive district title.

SC (21-11) reached the regional semifinal before falling to Madison Southern.

“Couldn’t think of a better coach to get this program started,” Halie Fain, a key component of Portwood’s 2014 and 2016 SC championship teams, wrote on Twitter. “Coach ‘P’ will set those girls up for success as players and young women.”

Scott County immediately posted the open head coaching position Wednesday morning.

While it’s possible that one of the understudies could be interested in the job, Portwood said he anticipates that most of the current staff will join him.

“Kayla (Portwood, Jeff’s daughter), Rachael Jones and Dave Woolums all are back for sure,” Portwood said. “Dave Whitley, he’s kind of at that retirement age from his other job, so we’ll have to wait and see on that.”

There was also the chance of family obligations persuading the head coach to step aside completely. Kayla Portwood is about to give birth to twins, which will be Jeff’s second and third grandchildren in a little over a a year.

“She had some complications early in her pregnancy, and we weren’t completely sure what we were going to do next year,” Portwood said. “As things moved along, that improved, and the babies are healthy as far as we know. She’s on board with it, and the whole family’s on board with it, so it made my decision a lot easier. We’re excited.”

Stratton, 57, coached first base for Scott County when it won the first and second regional titles in school history in 2016 and 2017.

The Cardinals captured a third consecutive district championship in 2018 and appeared at regions for the fourth year in a row this spring. That senior class, led by NCAA Division I signees Trace Willhoite (Louisville), Kyle Harbison (Indiana State) and Jordan Fox (Eastern Kentucky) won a total of 114 games in that span.

A native of Shelby County, Stratton celebrated significant youth baseball success there, including his starring role on an undefeated 12-and-under state championship squad in 1974.

Five years later, his high school team also won a state title. An all-state second baseman as a senior for the Rockets, Stratton recently was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.

Stratton graduated from Georgetown College, where he helped the Tigers to their first national ranking in school history, as well as conference and district titles. He later was an assistant coach for his alma mater after a brief minor-league playing career in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization.

“I am humbled, honored, excited and blessed for the opportunity to be the head baseball coach at Great Crossing,” Stratton said in a statement released by the school. “I look forward to building the baseball program along with building life winners of the student athletes on and off the field.”

Wilson will perform double duty for the Warhawks: He was previously appointed as Great Crossing’s first girls’ basketball head coach.

In 21 previous years with the Scott County school system, Wilson served in numerous capacities, including girls’ track and field coach, assistant girls’ basketball coach, and middle school girls’ basketball head coach.

A native of Versailles and graduate of Woodford County High School, Wilson was a member of the 1991 NAIA football national championship team at Georgetown College. He holds Master’s degrees from both Georgetown (special education) and University of the Cumberlands (education/leadership).

Slucher, also a Georgetown College alum, will be an assistant cross country coach at Great Crossing in addition to his track duties.

He ran varsity track at Harrison County High School where he was a state meet qualifier for three years and runner-up as a senior.

After competing in both track and cross country at Georgetown, Slucher coached two years in Letcher County and spent one season as an assistant coach with his alma mater Tigers.

Slucher will teach biology at Great Crossing.

Catron and Hancock each previous coached in neighboring Frankfort at Franklin County and Western Hills, respectively.

Hancock is a resident of Scott County who took up the sport of fishing passionately about five years ago. He has coached for three seasons and has taught information technology at the Franklin County Career and Technical Center) for 11 years.

Catron comes to the new school with 14 years teaching experience, all but two of those combined with coaching.

She is no stranger to life as a head coach, having led programs in tennis, cross country and swimming. She also has a bakground with girls’ soccer an an assistant.

The Lexington native and UK grad earned her Master’s in leadership at Eastern Kentucky University and has been part of the SCHS faculty the past two years. Catron lives in Georgetown with her husband, Rob, their son, Graham, 2, and stepdaughter, Paige, 17.

Kal Oakes can be reached via email at sports@news-graphic.com.

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