Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

June 4, 2014

Central girls hope magic contagious

ASHLAND — Johnson Central divided the long haul to Owensboro into a two-day trip.

With that, their confidence multiplied.

The Lady Eagles paid witness to the Johnson Central baseball team’s monumental upset over Tates Creek, the state’s top-ranked team, in the opening round of the state tournament in Lexington on Tuesday night.

Seventh-year Lady Eagles coach Jason Hurt thinks the victory shed a new light on his team’s state tournament embarkment.

“It was incredible,” Hurt said. “It’s something for our girls to think about. They were extremely excited for the boys, but now, in their own mind they’re thinking, we can get down there and make some noise, too.”

Johnson Central (25-8) faces Anderson County (28-8) today at 5 p.m. (central) at Jack C. Fisher Park in Owensboro. The Lady Bearcats are the Eighth Region champions.

Hurt and company are making their second trip in three years. He also piloted the Lady Eagles to Owensboro in 2009. In its two prior appearances, Johnson Central is a combined 0-4 in the double-elimination event.

While the tournament draw doesn’t create an easy path by a long stretch, Hurt has optimism.

“This group here, probably more so than we have had, is focused and has much higher goals than just winning the region,” said Hurt, while aboard the team bus. “We’re looking to get some wins down here.”

The Lady Eagles dominated the 15th Region Tournament, hammering Prestonsburg, Pikeville and Paintsville by a combined margin of 39 runs. They were 15-0 against region opponents this season.

Young on paper, Johnson Central is not inexperienced, said Hurt. The Lady Eagles feature just a pair of seniors, but a large deal of talent.

Twins Rachelle and Rebeckah Fairchild are back together on the field after Rebeckah’s lengthy recovery from a torn ACL. Since returning, the junior is 5-for-8 with seven RBIs, mostly in a pinch-hitting role. Rachelle, an All-Area selection, carries a .447 batting average and an error-free season at first base with her. She also has 40 RBIs.

Senior center fielder Brooke Williamson bats .402 with 31 RBIs. She has a team-best 19 stolen bases and excels in center field.

“Whether it’s running down a ball, or gunning down somebody, she’s just a peppy person, a peppy player,” Hurt said. “Our team thrives off her energy.”

Third baseman Lauren Delong and outfielder Jayla Spurlock both also tote .400-plus averages into the state tournament.

Senior Casandra Hall pitches to her defense, said Hurt. It’s worked out for her, as her 1.85 earned run average clearly overshadows a somewhat low strikeout total (74).

“She’s such a consistent pitcher,” Hurt said. “I’ve coached her basically since third or fourth grade in some sport or another. She’s almost like one of my own daughters.”

Hall has relented just five runs in six postseason games so far.

“She hits her spots, and has a screwball that works real well,” Hurt said. “She gives us a chance to win every single time.”

Anderson County will provide Hall and the Lady Eagle defense with a challenge.

Freshman catcher Bailey Curry has assembled a phenomenal season with a .454 batting average to go with eye-popping totals of 16 home runs and 49 RBIs.

Sophomore second baseman Kaci Currens (.421, 7 HRs, 42 RBIs) packs punch in the middle of the Lady Bearcats lineup as well.

Mia Aldridge and Ally Moore are Anderson County’s top two pitchers. Hurt said he thinks Aldridge will step into the circle today. She is 16-4 with a 1.54 ERA.

“We’ve preached patience at the plate all postseason,” Hurt said. “That’s our key with a lot of our batters. They’re so aggressive, that they just wanna hit. That’s a good thing, but it can come back to bit you if you’re not careful.”

If Johnson Central and Ashland turn in the same result today, the two teams will meet on Friday morning.

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

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