Updated 1 year ago by Mike Maharrey
Excitement and energy buzz through the streets of Carlisle, spreading out into the rural areas of Nicholas County.
Locals will tell you that the last few years have brought their fair share of struggles to the area. The economic downturn hit many small towns in Kentucky particularly hard, and Carlisle is no exception. Unemployment hoovers well above 8 percent and many wonder when things will start turning around.
But a group of high school girls have injected a sense of optimism into Nicholas County.
Last Thursday, the Nicholas County High School softball team knocked off Bourbon County 4-2 in the 10th Region championship game to earn its first ever regional title and a trip to Owensboro for the Rawlings/KHSAA Softball State Tournament.
"Sports play a big role in our community, and following our girls' successes have given this city something to be proud of again," Lady Jackets coach Barry Bretz said. "In these tough economic times, we are glad that we have given the town some good times, and a reason to hold their heads high and feel good."
These Nicholas County girls have tapped into something that transcends a simple ballgame - a sense of hope for the future and a renewed belief in the ability to prevail over long odds.
"When we won, our players were crying and were so emotional, realizing that dreams do come true, even for the underdogs of the world," Bretz said.
Last season, Montgomery County tossed the Lady Jackets to the curb in the 10th Region tournament, throttling them 16-0. This year, Nicholas County (27-8) got its revenge, uncerimoniously dispatching the Indians in a 10-0 victory. The Jackets won the championship with a 4-2 victory over a Bourbon County team that beat them 9-1 just three weeks earlier.
Underdogs can indeed prevail.
The Lady Jackets do it with good old fashioned teamwork, something familiar to small-town residents who must often to pull together through tough times.
"We have good senior leadership, and we have bought into a team concept, Bretz said.
The Lady Jackets rode the arm of senior Emily Curran through the regional tourney. She pitched 19 innings, giving up just five runs in three games. Nicholas County also has another strong arm in Reesa Martin. The junior went 7-1 during the season.
"Emily Curran was pitching so well, we stuck with her," Bretz said.
It's been a long time since Nicholas County has had a team vying for a state title. In 1993, the Bluejackets won the girls' state basketball tournament.
"Our small community went crazy," Bretz said of that state title run. "We really thought we had a legitimate shot this year of making it to Owensboro, and when we did our town is so alive and excited again."
Nicholas County opens up play Thursday against Estill County (31-9). The first pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Even while preparing for a softball game, Bretz thoughts seem to frequently turn to what it all means for his town.
"We are a scrappy bunch of girls that when we catch the ball we can play with anyone," he said. "I just really want to show people that our community is really behind us."