On April 22 Southmont’s softball team suffered a five-inning 10-0 loss to Covington — their fifth straight loss dropped their season record to 4-7.
Senior captain and star player Paige Knowling was not only battling a lingering injury, but she knew something wasn’t right with her team and a changed needed to be made.
“In the middle part of the season, we were struggling, and I knew something wasn’t right,” she said. “The team didn’t seem happy, they were stressed. So after a game, I had a talk with them and I said ‘you just have to relax, have fun, and go do your thing.’”
The very next night Knowling led-off the Mountie’s game at Western Boone with a home run, and Southmont beat the Stars 6-0 with Knowling dealing from the circle. Southmont went on to win 10 of its next 15 games, claimed a Class 2A Sectional title before falling to Oak Hill in 14 innings in the regional final.
Knowling’s role as Southmont’s leader has earned her the 2019 Journal Review Softball Player of the Year.
“She had some big hits for us,” Southmont coach Dan Taylor said. “I think about the home run at Western Boone in the first at-bat of the game and takes the pressure off the team and then we kind of got on a roll. That moment in our season I think was one of the moments where we really begin to play better.”
Statistically it is hard to argue with Knowling’s numbers. She led the Mounties with a .412 batting average, had 10 extra-base-hits, and stole 10 bases. From the circle she was 13-9 with a 2.05 ERA, and 176 strikeouts against just 19 walks.
“She’s an outstanding player, and outstanding leader, a good person, and really easy person to coach,” Taylor said about the senior. “She’s probably the smartest softball player I’ve ever coached as far as just knowing the game. She probably meant more to our team than many players who are great players. Our best hitter, best fielder, best pitcher. It’s hard to find that in one player, and Paige just brings that to the table.”
Knowling stepped into her senior season as a proven hitter and pitcher, but for the first time was asked to be the leader of the team. In season’s past she had been in the shadows of players like Sydney Casteel and Avery Hess, yet embraced the opportunity to not only be the team’s best player, but the one every girl looked up to. And it started with her assuming the duties of being the lead-off hitter.
“Hess and Casteel were both huge aspects and leaders of the team,” Knowling said. “So I knew I had some big shoes to fill. I had to keep up the momentum that Avery and Sydney had left in the past. I knew that once I started the game of right on offense, the team would follow and it would be a good game.”
As the season went on and Knowling got healthy, her game just continued to get better and better.
“She was hurt and it really showed how much she meant to our team,” Taylor said. “Because without her we were pretty below average, but she’s always been a player who tries to go out there even when she’s not 100 percent.”
“When she came back she was pretty good,” he added. “And then as the season progressed she just got better and better. And then in the sectional and regional you got to see what she could do when she’s feeling fine, and when she’s 100 percent she’s really hard to beat.”
In the sectional Knowling held the Mountie’s opponents to just seven runs in three games, and pitched 13 scoreless innings and struck out 15 in the 2-0 regional loss to Oak Hill, before allowing the game’s only pair of runs in the 14th inning. Knowling could feel the energy brought by her team and fans during the state tournament.
“The thing that went into the sectional and regional was the energy of the team and our crowd,” she said. “We have the best parents and fans in the county. They truly did help us to get as far as we did. As well as the time and effort put in, every practice, everyday, as well as coach Taylor, coach Remley, Coach Warren, and coach Yoakum.”
Knowling will depart for Hanover College this fall, where Taylor expects her to make seamless transition into the college game.
“I think she will translate to the next level really well, and I think she will be a leader on that team right away,” he said. “She knows how to make people around her better. She’s a good teacher and shares information, and she will get other players to work harder. I think she will elevate their entire program.”
Journal Review All-Area Team
Olivia Barnett — Crawfordsville
Lauren Kellerman — Crawfordsville
Addie Laskowski — Crawfordsville
Marley Massey — Fountain Central
Skylar Merryman — Fountain Central
Mallory Morehouse — North Montgomery
Marissa Craig — Southmont
Paige Knowling — Southmont
Natalie Manion — Southmont
Claire Remley — Southmont
Team compiled by Jared McMurry and Jeff Nelson