CORBIN — Sports Editorial by Les Dixon
The journey has been a long one, 18 years to be exact, but the North Laurel High School softball program accomplished a feat that no other has done in the state — reach 600 wins.
Yep, the Lady Jaguars did just that Thursday at home by defeating Middlesboro, 10-0. Seven other schools have won at least 500 games in the state, but not 600, and former coaches such as Marsha Mosley, Jimmy Durham, Shane Weaver and present coach Becky Osborne should be proud.
It’s been a long and winding road at times for the North Laurel softball program, but in the end, the Lady Jaguars always found a way to win.
So what’s been the formula of success?
Coaching, pitching and the help of a lot of parents back in the day that worked with their daughters in the early 90s in Laurel County.
North Laurel’s long chain of solid pitching can go back to Tara Evans, Osborne, Buck Dufour, Abby Sears, Megan Taylor and now with Megan Baldwin.
Sears is tied with Ryle’s Kirsten Allen as the all-time winningest pitcher in the state with 142 wins while Osborne isn’t too far behind with the third-most at 125.
“I thought we’ve always had good coaching and the parents have been a tremendous help, too, especially in the early 90s with Little League and travel ball,” Durham said.
“But with the pitching, it seems like we’ve always had someone to come in and fill the other one’s shoes when they graduate.
“Tara Evans did a great job when I first started coaching here and it continued since,” he added. “It’s really a unique situation being the all-time wins leader. I thought over time, North Laurel raised the bar and we’ve been able to sustain that part of the picture.”
Yep, when the game of fastpitch softball really hit the ground running, it really caught on in Laurel County — case in point, both South Laurel High School and North Laurel have won a combined 1,108 games.
There have also been a lot of memorable times if you’ve been a part of the North Laurel fan base along with some heart breaks along the way, too.
Durham said one of the best memories he can remember is when the Lady Jaguars captured the Jeffersontown Invitational championship in 1998.
“That was a big part of our history,” he said. “That marked the first time we had went up there to Louisville and beat a Louisville team. We beat Manual that year and that’s when things really began to roll for us.”
Just two years later Manual and North Laurel met up for something even bigger at state — a state championship.
The Lady Jaguars rolled through the competition during state tournament play, winning four games, including a 1-0 win over the Crimsons, to advance to the state title game.
That’s when the two teams hooked up in two of the best softball games I’ve ever witnessed. Manual pulled off a 1-0 win to force another championship game and eventually won the state title thanks to a Skyview Park bad hop over second baseman Heather Dufour’s head that scored the game-winning run.
“That was definitely the worst,” Durham said. “It was a heartbreaking loss with two outs and a routine grounder turned into a bad hop and a loss for us.”
The heartbreak didn’t last long, though. Fueled by the coaching of Abner and the pitching of Osborne, North Laurel reached the state title game again a year later, this time winning it over Owensboro Catholic, 2-1, while getting a little bit of payback along the way by defeating Manual in the winner’s bracket final, 2-1.
“To graduate our entire infield the year before and win it all was a huge accomplishment for everyone involved,” Durham said. “It was just a great feeling.”
There have been many highs (one for instance, Durham winning his 300th game while the program captured its 500th win during the same week) and maybe a couple of lows here and there since (I don’t have the room for all of it), but this might sum things up a bit better — the Lady Jaguars have won more region titles than any other school (14 with seven coming under Durham and five under Weaver).
But that’s not all.
There was a four-year span (1999-2002) North Laurel was ranked No. 1 in the state while also being ranked as high as 15th in the USA Today national rankings in 2000, 19th in 2001 and 25th in 2002.
Individual wise, there have been many awards with Osborne winning Miss Softball in 2002 capping things off.
The Lady Jaguars record stands at 600-141-1 along with 14 region championships, one state championship, two state runner-ups and one Final Four appearance.
That’s pretty darn good since fastpitch was a sanctioned sport beginning in 1995.
“You can’t stay on the top of the mountain forever,” Durham said. “You’re going to have some lulls here and there, but for us, we’re fortunate to be able to remain in the upper-echelon of the top teams in the state and hopefully, we can continue that kind of winning and tradition.”