Christian County’s Pickle Winkler is the 2021 Kentucky New Era softball Athlete of the Year.

After COVID-19 ended her sophomore season, Christian County’s Pickle Winkler knew what was coming in her junior year.

Another year at the top of the batting order for the Lady Colonels as one of the most reliable base-getters in the region, as well as a defensively sound piece in the outfield. But there was more to come with that.

She knew she was going to have to help lead this team.

“I just wanted to come back stronger (over the summer) and be able to handle the failures better than when I was younger,” Winkler said. “Back then, it was really hard for me to overcome that because I was always the young kid. Coming back, I wanted to show everybody that I can live up to my name. I’m going to show everybody I am exactly who they think I am.”

Winkler sat and learned behind a pair of Division-I talents in Emmy Blane (Kentucky) and Tyler Shemwell (Murray State) but now a junior and with a commitment to Louisville under her belt, it was her time to step up.

“I just knew I had to be that role model for the kids, just like Emmy (Blane) was to me,” she said. “I wanted them to know they had somebody they could come and talk to. If they were failing or needed to vent, I was always going to be that person and I think they knew that.”

Her growing leadership on the field, paired with her ability on the field is why Winkler is the 2021 Planter’s Bank Kentucky New Era softball Athlete of the Year.

At the plate, there might not have been a tougher out for opponents. Winkler’s eye and ability to get on base, whether from getting a hit or drawing a walk, always put pressure on opposing teams, because if she got on first, she was practically already on third with her speed.

Winkler stole 45 bases this past season on 48 attempts, breaking both the single-season and career stolen bases records at Christian County.

“I look for any opening there is,” Winkler said. “If they aren’t covering a base or the pitcher steps out of the circle and nobody is paying attention — it’s free game. You just go. I’m always looking for the mistakes from the other team or even just the lack of thinking from the other team and you take advantage of what they give you.”

With an entire year to go, Winkler has an opportunity to put the career stolen bases record into a place that many might view as untouchable. But she knows records are always meant to be broken.

“It feels good to know my name is on that board,” Winkler said. “I’m not a power hitter, but I made them remember me with what I can do and I can run. When people look at that record, I hope people shoot to beat it, just like I did.

“I hope it pushes kids when they look at that board.”

In the field, Winkler was just as frightening.

A threat to throw you out from anywhere in the outfield, Winkler made coaches pay numerous times when they decided to send runners home.

She knows she’s capable of taking care of business from center field, but also knows her teammates that are also involved play just as big of a part in the plays that she does.

“If Karlee (Crick) wasn’t behind the plate, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Winkler said. “Even when I’m hitting a cut — trusting Riley (Hancock), Gracie (Harned) — they were there. You have to be able to trust your own instincts and trust your ability to be able to do it.”

Now heading into her senior year, Winkler has her future already planned as she is committed to playing under former Lady Colonel Griffin Joiner at Louisville.

But her job in Christian County red isn’t quite finished yet.

Winkler is ready to put a close to what is an already historic career and is ready to lead her team to new heights next season.

“I really want to push to break my records, I want to push my teammates to break records,” she said. “We don’t have to win. Winning is nice, but I want to push my teammates to have fun, work together and become one on the field so we all know someone has your back. I just want to be a leader next year more than. I want to show the younger kids that it’s just a game.”

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