Ashland softball coaches and other volunteers rolled up their sleeves to make the field playable for the Kittens’ season opener.
Then Lawrence County came in and stole the show Saturday.
When Henry Clay opted out of the scheduled tripleheader due to wet weather concerns, Ashland and Lawrence County played a doubleheader instead.
The Bulldogs withstood two longballs each from the Kittens’ McKenzie Vanover and Sydney Whitt to come away with a 5-2, 8-7 sweep of the four-time defending 16th Region champs.
“We couldn’t get out of our own way,” Ashland coach Dave Miller said. “I was pleased with the way we played in our scrimmage against Russell. I don’t know what happened today. Maybe we just showed up thinking it would be OK.”
The Kittens, who lost four All-Area standouts to graduation, were outhit in both games and left 10 runners on base in each contest.
“We committed mistakes we don’t usually make,” Miller said. “I think my kids walked out of here stinging today. Hopefully, they will take away a whole lot from it.”
On the other side, Lawrence County couldn’t have imagined a better opening week. Kenny Horn has the Bulldogs off to a 4-0 start in his first year as head coach after seven years as an assistant with the program.
It’s basically the same group of players that struggled to a 9-28 record last year, including two lopsided defeats against Ashland.
“We didn’t lose anybody,” said junior Samantha Fitzgerald, who pitched a complete game in Saturday’s opener and picked up the save in game two. “We know we have a coach to stand behind us no matter what. We realize it’s a family, that you can’t win without playing together.”
Fitzpatrick, a left-hander, limited Ashland to five hits in the first game while managing to pitch around her eight walks. She issued two free passes in each of the first three innings, but kept the Kittens off the scoreboard until the sixth. An effective change-up helped her work out of jams.
Clean-up hitter Josie Hardin’s home run in the third off Megan Hensley put Lawrence County in front to stay.
An Ashland error opened the door and Hardin hit a shot over the center-field fence for a 2-0 lead and her second homer of the young season.
“I just got up there and focused on the ball,” Hardin said. “She’s a good pitcher. I think I just relaxed and hit it hard.”
Hensley, who racked up 14 strikeouts, allowed a run-scoring single to Kristin Caudill in the fifth to make it 3-0. Vanover got Ashland on the scoreboard with a solo blast in the sixth, but Lawrence County’s McKenzie Giompalo and Caudill had extra-base hits in the seventh as the Bulldogs extended their lead to 5-1.
Ashland tried to rally in the bottom of the inning, beginning with Whitt’s leadoff homer. The Kittens then put two runners aboard before Fitzpatrick ended the threat by getting a popout.
In game two, Lawrence County scored in six of the seven innings.
Whitt, the Kittens’ starting pitcher, helped her cause with a three-run bomb over the block “A” on the center-field fence, putting her team up 4-1 in the second inning. Lawrence County kept chipping away and took advantage of three walks in the fifth to push across three runs to tie it 6-6.
After each team scored a run in the sixth, the Bulldogs produced the game-winner in the seventh. Two walks from Hensley, who relieved Whitt to start the sixth, set the stage for Taylor Porter’s decisive RBI single.
“We gave up a lot of walks,” Miller said. “Mix in a mistake, and throw in a hit here and there, before you know it you’re hurting.”
Lawrence County seventh-grader Ciana Bowen pitched two innings in relief for the win. Fitzpatrick came on to get the final three outs.
“It’s my eighth year, and we only beat Ashland one other time,” Horn said. “This bunch believes we can do something great. It’s still early in the season. I don’t want it to get to where we think we are world beaters.”
Vanover crushed a two-run homer in the fourth inning and finished the doubleheader 3-for-4 with four walks. She hit a double to go with her two home runs.
“There’s no shame in losing to Lawrence County,” Miller said. “They are going to be a team to be reckoned with in the 15th Region. Right now, we’re a young team with a lot of work to do.”
LAWRENCE CO. 002 010 2 — 5 7 0
ASHLAND 000 001 1 — 2 5 2
Fitzpatrick and Cyrus; Hensley and Kilburn. W—Fitzpatrick. L—Hensley. 2B—Baldock (A), Giompalo (LC). 3B—Caudill (LC). HR—Hardin (LC), Vanover (A), Whitt (A).
LAWRENCE CO. 101 131 1— 8 9 1
ASHLAND 130 201 0 — 7 6 3
Horn, Bowen (5), Fitzpatrick (7) and Cyrus; Whitt, Hensley (6) and Campbell, Kilburn (6). W—Bowen. L—Hensley. 2B—Vanover (A). HR—Whitt (A), Vanover (A).