FLEMINGSBURG – The Fleming County softball team returned Sidney Argo, the player with the top batting average in the state in 2017, for just her freshman year this spring.
Last week, the Lady Panthers had a different player hit .917 during a three game stretch, going 11-for-12 with three doubles, three home runs, 12 RBIs and six runs scored.
That player – Morgan Fern – was getting instructions from Argo on slapping the ball while the Lady Panthers’ coaches warmed up to toss batting practice on Wednesday, shortly after the senior claimed MaxPreps/National Fastpitch Coaches Association National High School Player of the Week honors for the South Central Region earlier that day for her performance at the Tri-State Showcase.
“I just felt right I guess. I just got up there and was like, ‘Why not?’” said Fern. “They threw it right where I wanted them to – right down the middle, a little outside – I love it.”
The South Central Region includes eight states – Kentucky, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas – and Fleming County coach Nathan Ryver knows how special the performance his lone senior put on at the Tri-State Showcase was.
“She went 11-for-12,” said Ryver. “A major leaguer goes 11-for-12, you’re talking about MVP candidates.”
The catcher was unable to play in the team’s contest against Morgan County on Thursday – a 10-2 win – because she was on her senior trip, according to Ryver, but came back for a big game at East Carter on Friday, where the Lady Panthers came away with a 9-3 victory over Spring Valley out of Huntington, West Virginia. Fern went 3-for-4 with a double, four RBIs and two runs scored.
Fleming County followed it with a 6-2 victory against Scott, from Madison, West Virginia, the next day at Boyd County. Fern went 4-for-4 with two home runs, four RBIs and two runs scored.
Wayne – the Lady Panthers’ third straight opponent from West Virginia – was able to edge Fleming County later that day, 12-11, on a walkoff triple. Fern had another big game in the loss, going 4-for-5 with two more doubles and another home run. She drove in four runs for the third straight game, and also scored twice more.
For the ultra-competitive Fern, who’s now hitting .682 with five doubles, three home runs and 17 RBIs, it’s going up against the best that she likes best. That was never more true than in the Lady Panthers’ final game last season – a 1-0 loss in the 16th Region semifinals to Montana Fouts and East Carter. Fouts, who’ll play college softball at the University of Alabama, is considered by many to be the top pitcher in the state. Fern got two of Fleming County’s three hits in the game off of her.
“I like a pitcher with some speed. Pitches that move, they’re hard to hit, but I like good competition,” said Fern. “I don’t like playing somebody who’s, you know, mediocre. I like playing somebody good. I like competition.”
The other hit in that game came from Fleming County’s pitcher, Megan Claypoole, who ended her senior season that day with 297 strikeouts, the third-most in the state behind Fouts and Pulaski County’s Krystin Wilson.
Now Fern has new players she’s catching. It’s mainly been freshman Caroline Price in the circle, who’s posted a 3.45 ERA in eight games. With a young team – 12 of the 16 players on the roster are sophomores or younger – she’s had to take on more of a leadership role this spring.
“Morgan’s going to have to be a big part of that – kind of coaching them,” said Ryver. “She knows when to go out and talk to somebody, she knows when to jerk some rear end, but at the same time she knows when to just go down and relax and tell somebody they need to relax.”
But it also helps when some of those younger players are getting on base, like Argo and seventh grader Bethany Sergent. Argo currently is hitting .714 – an improvement from the best average in the state last year as an eighth grader – while Sergent reaches base a third of the time she steps to the plate.
“That’s great knowing I have somebody on base,” said Fern. “When she’s on base, I know where I need to hit it. If the outfield is playing deep and like shifted over, I’m going to try to put it to right field just to move her.”
It’s resulted in 15 first inning runs as the Lady Panthers have gotten off to a 5-3 start to the season. The only game they haven’t scored in the first inning was the season opener when Fleming County fell to Raceland, 17-2, in four innings.
“When I’m putting my lineup together, I get my on-base girls ahead of her in my one, two spots – she’ll hit number three – so I know she’s at least going to get up in that first inning and have a good chance,” said Ryver. “If you look back through, I think we’ve scored in the first inning in, if not all of our games, the vast majority of them. It just kind of hit me how much we’ve scored and how much we’ve been able to get some runs, especially early in the game. Of course, she’s going to be a big part of that with her power and just the contact percentage.”
The next time Fern and the Lady Panthers take the field will be to open 61st District play, as they are scheduled to take on Menifee County in a doubleheader on Thursday. The first game is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.