51st District softball appears to be three-team race heading into post-season

When it comes to district dominance, few have done it like the Knox Central Lady Panthers have since moving to the 51st District in 2006.

Knox Central has been a constant in the district championship game over the last 12 years, making it to the title game every season while winning eight.

The Lady Panthers took home the district championship trophy a year ago after beating Lynn Camp at Union College. The triumph was the sixth in the last eight years for Knox Central.

And while the Lady Panthers enter this year’s tournament as the team to beat once again after earning the top seed early in the season, the regular-season results indicate there is more parity than ever within the district.

Defending champion and top-seed Knox Central split its season series with Lynn Camp, which lost a game to Barbourville, pointing to as many as three teams having a legitimate shot in the upcoming tournament.

Here is a look at each team in the 51st District listed by seed going into the tournament.

The Lady Panthers have struggled with consistency but won when it was important, beating Lynn Camp, Barbourville and Pineville to capture the top-seed.

Knox Central is led by senior Hallie Gambrel and freshman Amber Partin both offensively and defensively. Gambrel, a Union College signee, is currently batting .412 with six doubles, a triple, eight RBI and 11 runs scored. Partin leads the Lady Panthers with a .526 average. She also has six doubles, 10 RBI, and nine runs scored.

Gambrel’s 4.61 ERA and 1.747 WHIP both lead the team. She has 26 strike outs against just nine walks in 30 innings of work on the mound. Partin has struck out 40 in 32 innings of work, with 13 base on ball.

Jadria Brown and Kaeli Hale have proven capable of leading the Lady Panthers. Hale has nine RBI and seven runs scored. Brown has scored 11 runs, which ties her for the team lead with Gambrel, while knocking in four more.

Emily Mills, Morgan Warren, Jayci Beth Corey, and Maykayla Hinkle are also very capable offensive players. Mills, Warren and Hinkle have all scored seven runs apiece.

Knox Central is very confident on the base paths with 25 stolen bases in 27 attempts. Gambrel leads with five thefts without being caught. Abbie Abner, Partin and Hale all have three steals each.

The Lady Tigers won just once in their first seven games but have been one of the region’s hottest teams of late with five wins in their last six games after a May 11 sweep of Thomas Walker, Va.

Barbourville won the district’s number two seed with mid-April wins over Pineville and Lynn Camp.

Several players have led the Lady Tigers at various points of the season. Megan Poff leads the team in hits (25), runs scored (27), and stolen bases (10) while hitting .373.

Shelbie Jones hits .400 with a team-best 21 RBI. She ties Autumn Hamilton for the team lead with seven doubles. Hamilton has also knocked in 16 runs.

Grace Jones has been a force offensively for Barbourville with a .415 average to go with 22 runs scored, seven stolen bases, and 12 RBI. Ally Daniels has come up big in clutch situations and is second on the team with 19 RBI, second in stolen bases with eight, and third with 15 runs scored.

Lucy Robinson and Whitney Brock have both scored 14 runs for the rank among the leaders for the Lady Tigers. Robinson also has seven stolen bases and 10 RBI, while Brock has knocked in 16 runs with four stolen bases.

Kenzie Hurley and Mary Gray round out the Barbourville lineup. Hurley has scored five runs while knocking in five more, while Gray has scored seven runs.

Three players have spent time on the mound for Barbourville this season, but most often it has been Hamilton, who has logged 82 innings in 18 games while striking out 69. Grace Jones has allowed just two earned runs and struck out 14 in 11.2 innings of relieve work and one start.

Until Nikki Hendrix was hired as coach, the Lady Cats were an afterthought in the district and had played for the championship just once in the 10 years prior.

But those days are no longer. In fact, a strong case can be made that Lynn Camp is the team to beat coming into the 2018 51st District Tournament.

Lynn Camp did lose to both Knox Central and Barbourville early in the season, but revenged both with one-sided wins later in the season. The Lady Cats beat Barbourville 13-1 in late April, and then Knox Central 12-4 just a few days later and are 5-2 overall against district opponents.

The Lady Cats are led by multiple star-quality players, including juniors Erin Holland and Makenzie Grant. Holland currently leads the state in runs scored with 52. She bats .528 with six doubles, a school-record seven triples, and 33 RBI.

Grant leads the Lady Cats with five home runs and her 46 RBI are among the state’s Top 10. She has 10 doubles and has scored 42 runs while hitting .523.

Eighth-graders Halle Mills and Katie Miller are playing like seasoned-veterans for Lynn Camp and both have been among the state’s Top 25 stat leaders all season. Halle Mills bats .510 with three home runs, 28 RBI and 46 runs scored, which ranks among Kentucky’s best. She set the school record recently with her 13th double. Miller is hitting .354 with eight doubles, 44 RBI and 16 runs scored. She has seen her name among the state’s leaders in RBI all season.

Julia Shepherd (.349 average, five doubles, 24 runs scored), Hailey Mills (21 RBI, eight runs scored), Kaley Hendrickson (16 RBI, 17 runs scored), Olivia Dozier (seven RBI, 11 runs scored), Madyson Roberts (10 runs scored), Brittany Chance (16 runs scored), Makayla Wright (10 runs scored), and Gabby Carollo (9 nine runs) all offer strong support in the lineup.

Lynn Camp has stolen 69 bases on the year. Holland leads the way with 18, while Grant and Halle Mills have 16 each. Chance has swiped seven.

Roberts has carried most of the load on the mound for Lynn Camp and has registered 88 strike outs in 132 innings of work. She has won 14 games. Halle Mills has proven herself to be a strike out thread on the hill and has struck out 24 in 20 innings of work which has resulted in two wins.

The Lady Lions haven’t had much luck this season or in recent years and have lost 13 straight against district opponents dating back to 2016.

Pineville recently ended a 30-game losing streak.