THE FINAL CHAPTER
By Brandon Hurley
The Ram duo has compiled 100 wins, more than 240 hits and two deep state tourney runs over the past five years
Ram seniors Carleigh Paup and Sydney Koch recaptured some of their magic June 22 for a come-from-behind win over Nevada in their final home game.
Greene County’s lone seniors hope to make another deep tournament run as their careers near the end. The duo has compiled 100 total wins, 247 hits and two top-three finishes at state, cementing their place in the Greene County record books.
“It’s been very exciting. Going to state the last two years, it’s really bumped up our confidence,” Paup said. “We knew this year was going to be a little bit of a struggle, but we knew as seniors we would need to step up and help the younger kids.”
Though they fell short of a state title, deep runs in not one, but two state tournaments is quite the consolation prize.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Koch said. “We kind of settled in and got used to winning. We have a lot of younger girls and we aren’t used to losing as much but I think we are doing a pretty good job.”
The Rams are 15-13 on the year, a far cry from the 32 wins a season ago, but the seniors have compiled their best statistical seasons to date.
Paup leads the team in batting, boasting a .440 average and 40 hits.
“(Carleigh) struggled early in her career when she switched over to the left side, but you could tell she was going to be really good,” Kennedy said. “She’s jet gotten better at hitting each year and is now one of the best hitters in the state.”
Koch has been the Rams’ most productive hitter, blasting five home runs (four more than her single-season high) and knocking in 26 RBI.
“Sydney has gotten so much stronger,” the coach said. “She made good contact as a young kid, but if she got it out of the infield, that was a great hit. Now she has so much power.”
For their careers, Paup boasts a .335 average and 152 total hits. Koch is a career .358 hitter and has blasted six home runs to go with 95 hits. Their passion to get better has been a key to their historic success.
“It’s been a lot of practice and determination,” Koch said. “In practice, we spend most of it hitting. We hit all the time. The coaches tell us what we need to change and we work on it.”
The duo aren’t slouches on the defensive side either - Paup patrols the hot corner, engulfing any balls that come her way, and Koch captains the outfield.
"With Carleigh, at third base, she’s become such a wonderful defensive player. She gets the balls that most third basemen don’t get to,” Kennedy said. “Sydney has been an anchor for our defense in the outfield. They’ve both improved in so many ways.”
The girls have used their experience to guide their young teammates through tough times this summer, as the squad spent a significant portion of June under the .500 mark.
“We are learning from them just as much as they are learning from us,” Paup said. “We’ve been through it all. We’ve been to state, we know how to win, we know how to lose. Hopefully, they can carry it on when we are gone.”
Their coach has noticed the increased leadership the seniors have taken on this season.
“They’ve lost more games this year than the last two years combined,” Kennedy said. “But they’ve continued to work hard and set such a good example for our younger kids. Hopefully their legacy will live on and they will be a good role model for the kids.”
Koch did her part in the senior night victory over Nevada, blasting her third home run in as many games.
“It was cool to go out with a big bang,” Koch said. “It was kind of emotional, it’s the last sport we will play in high school. It was a little difficult but it was fun.”
Paup knocked in two runs and scored a pair of runs to uphold her end of the bargain.
Kennedy had a difficult time fighting back his emotions on senior night as well.
“(It) was tough. They’ve meant so much to our program and to my success. They’ve helped me have success as a coach,” Kennedy said. “They’ve been such wonderful leaders. It’ll be a tough night for us when we play their last game for us. We really value what they’ve done for us.”
The Rams will take on Perry in the first round of the Class 4A regionals at 7 p.m. Thursday in Perry. The winner will travel to Norwalk to take on the Warriors at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 9.
“We moved up to 4A, so that’s going to be hard,” Paup said.
“We are going to tell the girls to play hard, because it could be the last game of the season,” Koch added. “Might as well give it your all.”
Greene County’s last regular season game is set for Thursday against Roland-Story. The Rams have won six of their last eight games, a run Paup and Koch hope they can use to recapture that magic of years past for one more thrilling ride in the postseason.
“They’ve improved so much and have meant so much to this program,” Greene County softball coach Tom Kennedy said. “They were such big contributors to two state-qualifying teams. They have had such wonderful careers.”