Ashland’s girls aren’t alone.
The Kittens became the 39th straight regular season opponent to fall at the collective hands of Fairland, 57-47, on Saturday afternoon in the Ironton Hall of Fame Showcase at Ironton High School.
Fairland’s match-up zone defense became problematic for Ashland early as the Kittens went just 2 of 16 from the floor in the first quarter and trailed 15-5 after one.
The Lady Dragons pounded the ball inside to Terra Stapleton, their 6-foot-4 junior center, frequently in the first half. The Minnesota commit racked up 20 of her 25 game-high points in the initial 16 minutes. She hit nine of her 13 first-half shots, while Ashland was 7 of 28 as a team in the same time frame. Stapleton also posted 14 rebounds.
“Missing shots got us down a little bit, but we’ve got to get over that,” said Ashland coach Bill Bradley. “I don’t think we went totally after it in the first half. They outworked us early.”
Ashland (14-5) was in the rare situation of playing one of two games on the day — the Kittens traveled to Fairview later in the evening. They were also without starter Allie Slone (knee).
Bradley decided against making excuses, though. Instead, he questioned a coaching move, or lack thereof.
“I probably should’ve gone to (the 1-3-1 defense) earlier,” said Bradley, who elected to go with a man-to-man look for the entire first half. “But we had just put it in this week.”
The 1-3-1 helped the Kittens claw back to cut the deficit to 49-45 with 4:58 to go. Then, after forcing one of Fairland’s 18 turnovers, they missed a chance to trim it closer.
“As a defense, we know we can run that now, at least,” Bradley said. “It was very effective.”
Chandler Fulks took advantage, draining her third 3-pointer to expand Fairland’s lead and give the Lady Dragons enough separation to close out a 10-point win.
Bradley pointed to the forgettable first quarter as the difference. The Kittens turned it over several times early, tallying 10 first-half miscues, but ended up with just 13.
“We stopped dribbling around so much,” Bradley said. “Our ball movement really helped us cut it to four ... The bottom line is we shot bad early.”
Kaylyn Gambill scored a team-best 16 points for Ashland. The senior guard caught fire in the third quarter — she splashed in a pair of 3-pointers in the closing two minutes of the period, prompting Fairland coach Jon Buchanan to interrogate his team heading into the fourth.
“How many 3-pointers are you going to allow No. 20 to take before you go out and guard her?” he asked.
Sydney Cullop chipped in nine points and eight rebounds for the Kittens. Sophomore standouts Alexis Robinson and Haley Sue Foutch were held at bay, combining for only 14 points.
For Fairland, Stapleton proved too much to overcome, even with a scoreless fourth period.
Stapleton used a nice spin move, both to her left and right, in the paint several times as she accounted for the Lady Dragons’ first eight points and 16 of their first 19.
“Our girls have a good understanding of if we get the ball to Terra early, that’s going to open it up for us later,” Buchanan said. “You make that defense kinda sag, and now I’m going to be open for a three or whatever it is. We’re maturing, understanding that.”
Fairland (15-0) defeated Rock Hill last week for its second consecutive Ohio Valley Conference title. The Lady Dragons, a region semifinalist a year ago, are currently ranked in the top 10 in Division III.
Buchanan said he didn’t exactly envision this type of run taking shape.
“We never make a schedule to go undefeated,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re playing a team like Ashland, you’re trying to challenge yourself. Our kids are just doing a good job of rising to whatever kind of team they’re playing.”
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.