The Fleming County softball team won a combined 16 games during the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons.
Then, in 2009 when Nathan Ryver took over the program, the Lady Panthers posted 17 wins.
His first season resulted in a 61st District title, and after five more titles in 10 seasons at the helm, Ryver has decided to resign to spend more time with his family.
“With the amount of time it takes to maintain a high level of quality on the field, I just got to the point where it was starting to get to be too much,” said Ryver. “My kids played Little League and soccer the past few seasons and I missed 80 to 90 percent of their games because of our practices or games. I just felt it was time. I feel like I’ve taken the program as far as I can take it and maybe it’s time for fresh blood or a new perspective.
“It’s been great. I didn’t expect to be here 10 years. It’s a long time, but it doesn’t seem like a long time. Once one season is over, you’re thinking about next season. You start imagining who’s going to play where, if you’ll get any surprises like Faith Adolph this year,” added Ryver. “It’s the life part of it that was most fun, but also the most draining. I won’t say I won’t be back at another time, but right now I need to coach my kids.”
Fleming County won four games the season before the Nathan Ryver era began. The 2009 season started with two losses, but the Lady Panthers finished the regular season with a 14-17 record. They went on to beat Bath County, 11-3, in the 61st District semifinals, before claiming the title over Rowan County, 4-2. He made changes in the program, playing the best players and starting the beginning of the season by working on fundamentals – something he continued doing during his next nine years.
The Lady Panthers won a game in the 16th Region Tournament against East Carter before Ryver’s first season came to a close against Ashland Blazer, the eventual champion, in 5 innings.
The second season saw 23 wins and included a second straight championship in the 61st District. Again, the Lady Panthers picked up a quarterfinal victory in the 16th Region Tournament, before falling to Ashland, who, once again, went on to claim the crown.
It was much of the same the following two seasons, posting winning records in both, before falling victim to the Kittens in the 16th Region Tournament. The Lady Panthers lost to Rowan County by a run in the district final in 2011, but regained the title – Ryver’s third in four years – in 2012.
After a down 2013 season, in which the Lady Panthers missed the regional tournament for the first time since 2005, Fleming County returned to form when the district tournament rolled around, claiming the 2014 title after three-run victories over Menifee County and Rowan County.
It began the first of three straight titles in the 61st for Fleming County.
“That’s always been the expectation – to compete every year and to compete for a district championship every tear,” said Ryver. “I know even after I’m gone that’s still going to be the expectation. It wasn’t always the expectation before we arrived, but setting the bar high is one of the things we’ve able to do to change the atmosphere.”
Fleming County posted their third 20-win season in a row in 2017, but were denied a fourth straight district championship as they were no-hit in the final by Rowan County’s Meghan Hammond. They were able to get by Raceland in the quarterfinals of the 16th Region Tournament, before falling to another eventual champion, this time to East Carter in a pitchers’ duel, 1-0 – a big difference from the results in the early trips to the tournament under Ryver.
“The first couple of years we were still learning how to win. Once we started to get older, some of games in the regional tournament, the margin of victory became smaller and smaller. A couple years before we lost to Boyd County, 5-0,” said Ryver. “I think some of it’s leaning how to win.”
After graduating key players from the 2017 squad, Fleming County was expected to be in a rebuild with young talent coming up, but ended with a 17-12 record this spring. The Lady Panthers missed the 16th Region Tournament for just the second time in 10 seasons under Ryver, who finishes his career as Fleming County’s coach with a 164-132 record and six 61st District titles, according to results posted on the KHSAA website. He says he considered stepping down after previous seasons and wasn’t originally planning on coaching in 2018.
“I knew we were going to be really young. I just didn’t know how good we were going to be and I didn’t want a new coach in their first year to have a poor record. I know what a good first year can do for a coach and I know what a poor first year can do for a coach,” said Ryver. “I figured I’d take the rebuilding season, so to speak, and then to get all the young girls a year of experience to where they’ll be back and be able to better compete this season. I had no idea we’d go 17-12.”
While he’s not sure if he considers the team to have overachieved this season, there’s no doubt the expectations have been raised since Ryver’s start in 2009. With the majority of players back next year, expectations remain high for whoever the coach will be.
“Next year with Montana [Fouts] finally graduating – it feels like we competed against her forever – and with the experience coming back, I think the team next year has a good shot at a regional championship. Everybody is sort of muddled up right now,” said Ryver.
“Really, for the next three, four, five, six years coming up, the future looks very bright for Fleming County softball.”