Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 6, 2013

Kittens heading back to State Tournament

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

MOREHEAD — Somewhat surprisingly, both the boys’ and girls’ games throughout the 16th Region Basketball Tournament featured very little fan support from the Ashland student section.

During Monday night’s semifinal win for the Kittens over Lewis County, only a handful of the players’ peers took part.

Tuesday’s final against nemesis Boyd County brought a few more of the Blazer High faithful down I-64 to Morehead State University’s Ellis T. Johnson Arena, but one particular maroon-clad fan wasn’t satisfied with their spirit.

At halftime, as Ashland led 32-25, Rachel Jones walked down and 30 feet to her right from Section N to propose a deal.

“I said, ‘If you all don’t stand up, I’m going to come over and stand with you,’” said Jones, mother of Ashland senior basketball player Madison Jones.

Knowing she meant business, they followed her orders.

“They did good, they did good,” she said, smiling as the Kittens walked onto the court to receive their second region championship trophy in two seasons.

Jones, as vivacious as the glittery ‘A’ sparkling on her shirt, couldn’t help but stand in support of a team she adores.

“I feel like they’re all my daughters,” said Jones, who has followed the Kittens since when her middle daughter, Morgan, played in 2006.

When Allie Slone, also a senior who has played alongside Madison since the age of 9, stepped up to the free-throw line with 21 seconds remaining in a 52-52 game, Rachel Jones felt confident.

“I knew she could do it,” Jones said.

Slone sank them both and Ashland’s defense did the rest, leaving Rachel Jones in jubilation.

“When you have seven seniors, you get more emotional, especially when one’s your own,” she said. “They have worked really hard.”

Bill Hornbuckle, an avid Ashland athletics connoisseur, said the 54-52 hard-fought contest was a reflection of the quality of talent in both the Ashland and Boyd County feeder programs.

“In my opinion, you’re looking at the top two teams for the next four or five years, anyway,” Hornbuckle said. “Both are well-coached with a good system in place.

“Not to say other teams can’t upset the apple cart, but the region needs to get used to seeing these two teams.”

A self-proclaimed “Ashland guy,” Hornbuckle found himself cheering for both sides on Tuesday.

“I’m at the point in my life that I’ll root for individual kids,” he said. “I’d have been just as happy had (Boyd County) won because of those kids. Taylor Wheeler is a great kid from a great family. Logan Fraley is a great kid from a great family … I want Ashland to win, but there are great kids on the other side of that ledger too.”

Family is the reason Bill Pinson, a 1959 Ashland graduate, moved back to Ashland after 29 years in the Air Force and 19 years working for various school systems in Texas.

“The main reason was for my great niece,” Pinson said.

His great niece is Haley Sue Foutch, a Kittens sophomore starter.

Pinson missed just two games over the past two seasons, and he was in Morehead on Tuesday just as he was last season to witness Ashland’s title clincher.

“Haley Sue’s wonderful,” he said. “She tells me, ‘Uncle Bill, if you keep crying, I’m not going to talk to you anymore.’ So I held back the tears tonight.”

Ashland will play the 10th Region winner next Wednesday in the opening round of the Girls Sweet Sixteen in Bowling Green.

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.