Boyle softball team ready to go to work

These boots are made for workin’.

If you arrive early enough for a Boyle County softball game, you might see a parade of boots as the players make their way to the field. Wearing everything from fashionable Western boots to dirty old muck boots, the Rebels are making a statement with every step.

It’s a ritual that started early in the season and has grown legs, so to speak, as the Rebels have racked up wins.

“The majority of our kids, before games and on the road, they’ll put on their cowboy boots and wear them (to the field) because it’s time to go to work,” Deem said.

The work has been going well to this point. Boyle, which has won the past three 12th Region championships, is putting together another spectacular season, establishing itself as one of the teams to beat not only in the region, but in the state.

At the midpoint of the nine-week regular season, the Rebels are 13-2 and ranked No. 4 in the current Kentucky Softball Coaches Association poll.

They have reached double figures in runs in seven of their wins, and they have held 10 opponents to two runs or less.

Boyle is a hungry team after missing out on what could have been another memorable season last year, and second baseman Hailey Cannon, one of six seniors on the roster, said it is a close team as well.

“We’ve been playing together for a long, long time, and … we’ve gotten through COVID and everything and we all stayed really close,” Cannon said. “That’s really helped us a lot.”

Boyle’s most recent victory was an 8-3 win Tuesday over Male, which had been ranked No. 1 in the state before losses in four of six games dropped the Bulldogs to No. 12 this week.

“I thought we did a pretty good job,” Deem said, “but there’s a couple of things we’ve got to get better at.”

That work never stops, but there was a lot to like in the win over Male at Rebel Stadium. Boyle scratched out a 3-0 lead thanks in large part to the bottom of its lineup — the Rebels got five of their nine hits from positions six through nine in the batting order, and those players reached base in eight of their 14 plate appearances.

Then the Rebels racked up five hits in their last two at-bats to answer both of Male’s scoring innings and put the game out of reach.

There were key hits from players such as Kennedy Qualls, whose two-out single from the No. 9 spot in the second inning drove in Boyle’s first run; Ella Coffey, who drove in two runs with a pair of singles from the No. 7 spot; and Madison Luttrell, who drove in a run with a pinch-hit single.

“(They) did some basic things: Find a way to put the barrel on the ball,” Deem said. “You don’t have to hit home runs, you don’t have to hit the big gappers, those will come as long as we’re consistent with our swings.”

There also was a two-run home run in the sixth inning from Kayleigh White, who had two hits, and three runs scored by courtesy runner Stella Jackson after Emily Glasscock reached base three times.

Boyle used both of its pitchers, sophomore White and senior Kyndal Honaker, to hold Male to three hits and five walks and strike out eight batters. And the Rebels got a couple of impressive defensive plays, including a play in short left field in which shortstop Summer Ray ranged to catch a popup and threw a runner out at home.

Ray’s play was just one example of the athleticism that Deem said has made the Rebels better both on offense and on defense.

“We’re probably as dangerous on the bases as I’ve been in the last five to seven years. And being able to make some plays in difficult spots up the middle and on the corners, that’s really something that we have lacked in the past.”

“We are pretty athletic this year,” Cannon added. “It’s a big, huge asset to the whole team,” “All nine players on the field, we can all play. Everybody knows everybodys gonna make the play.”

Boyle once again has two talented pitchers whom Deem said complement each other well. White is 6-1 with a 1.17 earned-run average and has 82 strikeouts in 48 innings, while Honaker is 7-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 41 innings.

“I think we really make each other shine,” Honaker said. “She has a lot of velocity on her and I have a lot of spin on me. We pick each other up.”

That happened Tuesday after White struck out five batters in the first two innings but ran into control trouble. Honaker took over in the fourth inning and closed out the win.

“We’re fortunate to have two pitchers where we can (do that),” Deem said.

Boyle’s lineup features players who can provide speed, power and timely hits to advance runners.

“I think that our lineup is pretty diverse,” Honaker said.

White leads the offense in all three triple crown categories with a .522 batting average, seven home runs and 24 RBIs. Ray is hitting .412 with three homers, a team-high seven doubles and 18 RBIs, and she has stolen 11 bases in 12 attempts, and Cannon is hitting .389 and leads the team with 20 steals in 21 attempts and 24 runs.

Other key contributors include Coffey (.412), Glasscock (.375) and Honaker (.356, 12 RBIs)

“And we’ve got some kids that I feel like could probably be playing somewhere else, but here they understand they’ve got to buy into their role and do their jobs,” Deem said. “If you’re a DP (designated player) or a courtesy runner or whatever it is, you buy into it and you do the best you can. You take that role with pride, and they’re doing a good job of that.”

Deem said the Rebels convened for this season with a strong sense of purpose and a little bit of an edge after the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I like that about my seniors. They’re doing a great job of leading, not because I said so, but they’re convincing these kids to buy in just because it’s the right thing to do, and that’s great leadership,” he said.

Many of the players are on summer teams and were able to practice and play in the summer and fall, and Honaker said they couldn’t wait for practice to start this winter.

“I’d say we were probably the most hungry that we’ve ever been,” she said. “We were just so ready and eager. It was December and it was, ‘Coach Deem, when can we get outside? The Rebels have lofty goals and a schedule that can help them attain them. Male was the first in a stretch of six quality opponents in seven games that includes No. 5 Central Hardin, No. 7 Butler, No. 9 Assumption, No. 18 Woodford County and No. 20 Great Crossing, and the schedule features good teams from top to bottom.

“I think it just really gets us ready for the postseason … and we’re excited to start that journey,” Cannon said.

Boyle’s losses are to South Warren, which was ranked No. 3 at the time and is No. 1 now, and to Calloway County, which was unranked at the time and is No. 25 now, in last weekend’s Kentucky 2A Championships state tournament.

“My girls were really disappointed in what happened (in the loss to Calloway), and they realize that can happen in the first round, second round of the regional tournament, and then you’re packing up and all your goals are gone,” Deem said. “It’s one of those things that maybe opened our eyes a little bit. It reminded us the game can be cruel at times, so you’ve got to respect the game.”

That means coming ready to work, and that means putting on their boots.

That became a thing after the third game of the season, when assistant coach Jessica Speake used a boot to mark the distance for a pitcher’s warmup because she didn’t have her usual marker.

“I said, ‘You know what that boot’s for? It’s because we’re about ready to go to work, so that’s our work boot,’” Deem said.

Cannon said the players responded to that, adopting an image that she said opponents from larger towns often have of them.

“People sometimes may look at us as a country school or redneck people, so we just thought we’d embrace it and wear our work boots whenever we get ready to work,” she said.

Stereotype or not, Honaker said most of the players already had boots.

“Probably 75 to 80 percent were ready to go,” she said. “We’ve got some nice boots, and some of them are just good ol’ muck boots.”

Deem’s teams have won five regional titles in his eight seasons as coach and have gone 10-9 at the state tournament. He said he likes the look of this team, no matter what’s on their feet.

“I like my kids,” he said. “I’m not saying anything about who we are or where we’re going to be, but wI like my team.”