Ashland used the rise ball and long ball Tuesday night to beat Boyd County in their first softball matchup this spring.
Sophomore Megan Hensley worked high effectively in pitching a three-hitter, while senior McKenzie Vanover belted her fifth home run of the season in the Kittens’ 3-0 victory.
“This is an awesome win,” said Hensley, who rang up a dozen strikeouts to give her 26 in two days. “We’ve been looking forward to this game since the beginning of the season.”
Hensley struck out eight of the first nine batters against a Boyd County team ranked in the preseason Top 25 by state coaches.
“Mostly, I was just throwing outside,” Hensley said. “It was working, so I just stayed there. It’s a lot easier to pitch in warmer weather.”
Boyd County coach Geoff Stewart said his team didn’t show nearly enough patience at the plate.
“Hensley pitched a good game,” Stewart said. “If we are going to swing at pitches that are high and outside, she is going to continue to throw them up there until we make adjustments.”
Stewart said he was particularly disappointed because Boyd County just returned from scoring 49 runs in seven games during its Spring Break trip to Cocoa Beach, Fla.
“We played good competition down there and had been hitting the ball,” said the Lady Lions coach. “We couldn’t get anything going today.”
Two of Boyd County’s three singles didn’t make it as far as the pitching circle.
“Megan did a really great job going up and down and keeping Boyd County off balance,” Ashland coach Dave Miller said. “She mixed her rise ball and other pitches well.”
Hensley also benefited from a pair of defensive gems. Centerfielder Sydney Whitt flagged down Taylor Newsome’s drive to left-center in the third inning, and second baseman Katie Caron speared a liner in the sixth to take a hit away from Bri Crooks.
“I’m really pleased with our performance,” Miller said. “We had been bleeding errors the last three or four games in a row. Tonight, we had two great defensive plays and no errors.”
Caron, who also singled twice, just returned to the Kittens’ lineup Monday. Last week, the senior was hit in the face by a ball in Myrtle Beach and needed 10 stitches to close a cut above the eye. She missed the last two games of the team’s spring trip.
“I can’t say enough about that kid,” Miller spoke of Caron, who has contributed much in the Kittens’ streak of four 16th Region titles. “She’s been with us since the seventh grade. Katie works her tail off and is a great leader. She’s kind of the heart of this team.”
Ashland has won seven of nine games since losing a doubleheader to Lawrence County to open the season.
“We’re a young team that’s getting better,” Hensley said. “The trip helped us. We played against some good teams, including a prep school.”
Hensley, batting cleanup, aided her cause by lining a single up the middle to lead off the third inning. She took second on Caron’s base hit and scored on Hayley Kilburn’s double for a 3-0 lead.
Vanover staked the Kittens to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. The junior homered over the fence in right-center off Alex Meade after Whitt opened the game with a single and stole second.
“That was awesome,” Hensley said of Vanover’s latest blast. “I get pumped up, especially when we hit a home run.”
Ashland collected seven hits in the first three innings. Boyd County’s Meade settled down and held the Kittens to a single the rest of the way.
“I thought Alex pitched a pretty darn good game,” Stewart said. “She made three bad 0-2 pitches, one for the home run and one for a double.”
Both teams are back in action Thursday. Boyd County (5-4) plays host to East Carter, while Ashland travels to Fairview.
“We have 27 games left,” Stewart said. “Ashland is our rival and the team we want to beat, but there’s no reason to get torn up. We’re going to keep working. We have three more possible meetings with them.”
ASHLAND 201 000 0 — 3 8 0
BOYD CO. 000 000 0 — 0 3 0
Hensley and Kilburn; Meade and Roark. W—Hensley. L—Meade. 2B—Meade (A), Kilburn (A). HR—Vanover (A).