Reigning 15th Region softball champion Johnson Central is getting a good look at top contenders in the 16th Region, especially this week.
As fate would have it, Tuesday’s KHSAA draw paired the two regions in the opening round of the State Tournament, set for June 6-8 in Owensboro.
Later Tuesday, the Golden Eagles traveled to Cannonsburg and handed Boyd County one of its most lopsided defeats of the season — 14-5.
“On the way down, we were talking about (the draw),” said Johnson Central coach Jason Hurt, who also guided the school to a regional title in 2009. “We knew Boyd County has a good program. To beat them like we did was pretty exciting for us. Hopefully, it will carry into the rest of the season.”
The Golden Eagles, again one of the frontrunners in the 15th, blanked Russell 4-0 on Monday and will meet four-time defending 16th Region winner Ashland on Friday. Those two teams have another regular season matchup May 16.
“Ashland got us twice last year, so that’s extra incentive,” Hurt said. “I feel if we come to the park with a purpose, we can play with these teams.”
Early in the season, Johnson Central had a one-run loss to Greenup County and defeated Rowan County 3-1.
Johnson Central (13-6) did nothing but impress Boyd County coach Geoff Stewart, who watched the visitors jump out to an 8-0 lead in the first inning and pound out 16 hits overall.
“They are the favorites to win the 15th, and now I can see it,” Stewart said. “They can definitely hit, and that’s one of the most solid defenses we’ve seen all year.”
Sophomore Rachelle Fairchild, who bats fourth in the lineup behind her twin Rebeckah, put on a power show.
Rachelle hammered a three-run homer to left-center to highlight the Golden Eagles’ first-inning explosion. She came to the plate with two aboard again in the seventh and launched another bomb, this one to straightaway center.
“I didn’t think it was going to go out,” Fairchild said. “The first one, I knew.”
She also singled to start a three-run fourth inning. Hart said Fairchild had not been hitting up to her potential lately, prompting her to move her around in the lineup.
“Hopefully, this will get her motor started,” the coach said.
Hitting was contagious for the Golden Eagles, whose roster has only two seniors. Leadoff batter Chloe Blair and No. 2 hitter Lauren Delong each collected two of their three hits in the first inning as Johnson Central chased Boyd County starter Alex Meade. Delong is a cousin of Boyd County player Lora Thompson.
Brooke Williamson, Jayla Spurlock and Casandra Hall added two hits apiece for the Paintsville school.
Williamson, a junior shortstop, has also given the team outstanding defense this season after transferring from Belfry. Hart calls her a pitcher’s dream. Williamson made several nice plays in the field Tuesday, including a running catch in the outfield to end the game.
Said the opposing coach: “I kind of like my own shortstop (Emily Stewart), but that kid can play.”
Boyd County (12-7) finished with nine hits and did all of its scoring in the third and fifth innings.
“At least we did make a little bit of a fight of it the middle of the game,” Geoff Stewart said.
Lady Lions junior Bri Crooks continued her recent tear at the plate by going 4-for-4 with two doubles. She went to all fields and each hit was stung.
“That’s the Bri Crooks we’ve been waiting on,” Stewart said. “She got hot at the end of last week and continued it tonight. She’s in a zone right now.”
J. CENTRAL 800 300 3 — 14 16 2
BOYD CO. 002 030 0 — 5 9 0
Webb, Hall (6) and Blair; Meade, Murphy (1) and Roark. W—Webb. L—Meade. 2B—Wefenstette (JC), Blair (JC), Delong (JC), Williamson (JC), Crooks 2 (BC), Mullins (BC). HR—Ra. Fairchild 2 (JC).