Alex Young and Shelby Gransbery missed their time away from the Ashland Kittens basketball program.
Both players sparkled in their returns Tuesday night as Ashland opened the season with a 64-48 victory over Rowan County in Anderson Gym.
Young connected on five 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 17 points for the two-time defending 16th Region champions.
The 5-foot-10 senior didn’t expect so much from herself.
“No, but I was hoping,” said Young, who came off the bench for the Kittens as a junior before deciding in January that she didn’t want to play anymore.
“I regretted it like a week after I quit,” Young said.
Now she’s back, looking to fill the 3-point shooting void left by Kaylin Gambill, who went on to the college ranks. So far, so good based on the summer, preseason and opening night.
“Alex has really moved into that role of a shooter,” Ashland coach Bill Bradley said. “She looked over at the bench a couple of times tonight and asked, ‘Did I rush it?, or was that a good shot?’”
Bradley assured Young that she was doing just fine. She went 5-for-11 from beyond the arc. After Rowan County put together a 10-2 run down the stretch to close to 59-48, Ashland took a timeout and Bradley called an inbounds play for Young. She curled behind a screen and nailed her final three-ball of the night.
“That’s Alex’s job, she likes it,” said Bradley, who expects Ashland to see plenty of zone defenses because of how well the Robinson sisters — guards Alexis and Mykasa — can penetrate with the ball.
Gransbery, a 5-11 junior, also made her presence felt in her first start for the Kittens with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field. She left Ashland after her freshman year, sat out last season while attending Fairview and then returned to the Kittens.
“I think I played well for just coming back from taking that year off,” Gransbery said. “I’ve been working a lot on conditioning.”
Gransbery scored 25 points in Ashland’s final scrimmage against Fleming County. She was active getting up and down the court again Tuesday, including three drives for baskets in the first quarter as the Kittens jumped out to a 17-8 lead.
“Shelby had a great game,” Bradley said. “It’s all about confidence with her. If she thinks she’s playing well, she really turns it on.”
Overall, Ashland put four players in double figures. Alexis Robinson, a junior rated among the Top 10 players in Kentucky, managed 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists despite playing with a strained groin. She missed four days of practice leading up to the opener.
Haley-Sue Foutch put in 10 points for the Kittens, who began the season in the Top 25 of a state coaches’ poll.
Josie Roberts, another new starter, helped out with six rebounds, a couple of baskets and hustling defense while the younger Robinson (an eighth-grader) supplied seven points, six steals and five rebounds.
Ashland’s first-half lead reached 36-18 on Gransbery’s three-point play off a Rowan County ballhandling miscue. The Lady Vikings piled up 17 turnovers by intermission, nearly matching their number of shots from the field (18).
“We didn’t press much, but our length showed tonight defensively,” Bradley said.
Despite struggling with turnovers and poor shooting, the Lady Vikings hung around and gave Ashland trouble inside with eight offensive rebounds.
“Credit to them,” Bradley said. “Coach (Jen) Williams had them ready. We didn’t do a very good job of boxing out and they outworked us.”
Senior Faith Conn led Rowan County with 14 points and Candace Justice scored 10 in a reserve role.
Both teams will be on the road Thursday. Ashland plays Lewis County, while Rowan County has a matchup with Lexington Catholic.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.