How good is Ashland’s softball start this season?
So crazy hot that after five games, the 20th-ranked Kittens own twice as many home runs as their opponents have hits — 4-2 to be exact.
Tuesday night, coach Dave Miller’s team continued its steamrolling ways by flattening West Carter 11-1 in five innings.
Senior Kelsee Hammonds provided more brilliant pitching, while Emily Preece blasted a three-run shot off the light pole to the left of the Kittens’ scoreboard.
“We’re getting great pitching and great offensive production,” Miller said. “It’s been fantastic.”
After back-to-back top eight finishes in the State Tournament, Ashland’s big question mark entering the season was how the team would cope with the loss of All-State pitcher Katelyn Miller.
But Hammonds threw two of the Kittens’ three no-hitters on opening week, and Tuesday she tossed her second one-hitter in as many nights.
“She looked really good,” said West Carter Greg Reynolds, whose Lady Comets returned several starters from last year’s 16th Region semifinal team. “You can tell she’s worked hard on her pitching. She was tough.”
Hammonds’ only problems came at the outset, when she walked the first two batters. Isabella Gearhart followed with a slow roller to short that she beat out for an infield single. The throw went off the glove of Ashland’s first baseman, allowing Brooke Adkins to score the first run yielded by the Kittens this season.
West Carter (2-2) had a chance for a big inning with runners on second and third and no outs, but Hammonds quickly put out the fire with three strikeouts.
“That was huge,” Miller said. “After a rocky start, she settled down and got on a roll. When Kelsee spots up really well like that, she’s hard to handle.”
Hammonds struck out the side in the second inning and went on to retire 14 batters in a row.
“She got in a groove,” Reynolds said. “I thought we were lackadaisical. We stood and watched too many pitches.”
Hammonds also continued her blistering pace at the plate. She singled and doubled in three at-bats and now is 15-for-18 — about half of the hits going for extra bases.
In the fifth inning, Hammonds doubled off the block “A” on the center-field fence. The Kittens’ leadoff hitter took third on an infield out and hurried home on a wild pitch to complete the mercy-rule victory.
Reynolds credited Ashland for a strong performance but would like to have seen more energy from his own squad. West Carter lost 10-5 at Boyd County the previous night and the bus didn’t arrive back in Olive Hill until almost 11 p.m.
“I thought we looked like a tired team tonight,” the coach said. “Leatha (Reynolds) was sore.”
Reynolds, one of the region’s top pitchers, worked on back-to-back days for the first time this season. She pitched four innings against Ashland, allowing three runs in the first and seven in the fourth when the Kittens batted around.
Preece provided the highlight, playing longball with Kat Jackson and McKenzie Vanover aboard. Preece became the fourth different Ashland player to hit a home run this season, joining Hammonds, Jordan Hensley and Vanover.
“I think we are swinging it well for this time of year,” Miller said. “We still have to work on decision-making at the plate, but we have already shown power and an ability to play a little small ball when we need to.”
Jackson, who bats No. 2 in the order behind Hammonds, had bunt singles in each of the first two innings.
“She laid down two perfect bunts,” Miller said.
Vanover and Jordan Hensley also contributed two hits apiece. Hensley, a senior first baseman, did not play softball last spring but has returned to make a large impact. She’s 11-for-17 at the plate so far this season.
“When I first saw her, it was like the kid has not missed a beat,” Miller said. “Jordan is really driving the ball.”
The Kittens travel to Greenup County on Thursday. West Carter has a home game Thursday against Russell.
WEST CARTER 100 00 — 1 1 2
ASHLAND 300 71 — 11 10 1
L. Reynolds, Shelton (5) and Adkins; Hammonds and Preece. W—Hammonds. L—L. Reynolds. 2B—Hammonds (A). 3B—M. Hensley (A). HR—Preece (A).